Who was Mary Magdalene?
Mary Magdalene is one of the most controversial figures in the Bible. From the writing of the New Testament to the filming of The Da Vinci Code, her image has been repeatedly conscripted, contorted and contradicted. Some people, even some churches portray her as a prostitute and merge her identity with the sinner who anoints Jesus’s feet in Luke 7:36-50, in art she comes across as an outcast. Some people believe that Jesus and Mary Magdalene might have been married, however there is no evidence to support this belief whatsoever. Some scholars consider her to be Martha and Lazarus’ sister. Yet others honour her as an apostle, not even just as a disciple but as ‘the apostle to the apostles’. The Gospel of Mary which did not become part of the Bible presented her as a teacher and spiritual guide to the other disciples.
Still, what we know for certain is that Mary of Magdalena had a tough background and came from a town called Magdala, 120 miles north of Jerusalem. Her name suggests that she was unmarried and was a woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons (Luke 8:2). After this event, she became one of His followers and was a leading figure amongst the followers of Jesus. In certain texts where Jesus was in discussion with his disciples, Mary Magdalene asked many informed questions. Whereas the other disciples at times seemed confused, she was the one who understood. She was definitely not a quitter. While the other disciples ran away afraid, Mary stayed with Jesus until He died on the cross. Even though the rules of her religion said that she had to be inside before dark, she followed Jesus’s body to the tomb. She was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection and was present at the beginning of a movement that was going to transform the world.
Mary Magdalene with self-confidence issues today
Probably all of us have come across young people who showed self-confidence issues because they felt that people didn’t believe in their competence and self-worth. There are so many teenagers who have the potential to be history makers and world changers even in our churches today. Moreover, we can all make a difference, we can all do something, every one of us. Although everywhere young people go what they are bombarded with is that they are not good enough, life is hard and you have to make money in order to survive through any means even if you are doing something that doesn’t interest you or won’t make a difference. You are only good enough if you somehow become a famous star, appear on TV, look like a model or have the latest gadgets and most expensive clothes.
We have a responsibility on our hands to recognise each young person’s potential, help them not to let others’ opinions drown their inner voice, to provide a platform for them in our churches to practice their giftings and talents and to contribute to their future story in a positive way. Sometimes the traditions of certain churches can only allow certain individuals to serve in church leadership for instance there is still a question around female leadership in some churches, and in others you may have to have certain qualifications, experience to be allowed to preach, lead or serve. Jesus not only loved and accepted Mary Magdalene as a future leader but chose her to be the first who he would see after his resurrection. Jesus did not send his disciples including Mary on a 3-5 year theology course, instead he recognised the potential in them, walked alongside them, encouraged and challenged them and then gave them opportunities to serve, preach and then to lead with no limitations. When young people start to believe in themselves despite what the world and others think of them and start stepping into what God has called them to be and to do, then we can start to hope for a better future. Young people are not only leaders of today and can change and shape our churches but are also the leaders of tomorrow and we need to embrace their leadership abilities no matter their age or background.
The sinner Mary Magdalene came to our youth group
Have you ever had a young person in your youth group who came from a tough background and was perhaps very deeply involved in the ‘drugs, sex, alcohol and rock-n-roll culture’, maybe even kicked out of school but seemed to be very interested in coming to your youth group and possibly even started to ask questions about God. In the following I would like to share one of my experiences very similar to this. One day, a couple of girls I got to know outside of the church visited our youth club. The club was normally attended by mainly young people who belonged to the church and they all knew each other already. The new girls and the old members could not be more different to each other and this caused lots of challenging moments from the very beginning. Our members were unfriendly and unwelcoming to the newcomers even after I talked to them and challenged them about their behaviour.
Time and time again we see in the Bible that Jesus showed compassion to everyone no matter their background. He loved everyone equally, not depending on their character or how big or small their sin was. Jesus went out of his way to relate to those whom society would have considered outcasts and unwelcome. He treated them with dignity, forgiveness and grace.
If we want our young people to learn to be more ‘Christ-like’, they need to be shown examples of how they can practice grace and acceptance to people who are different from them from an early age and to learn that none of us are perfect or deserve God’s forgiveness. We need to have open doors and open arms to young people even if they might be ‘different’ from others or not as easy to deal with and we need to include them in our mission. Besides, encouraging young people to get to know and work alongside and see those who have different struggles than themselves can also open their eyes and hearts and enable them to see and understand the radical kingdom reversals that are at the heart of the gospel.
Mary might have been overcast and a sinner in her past but after she was liberated, she left her old life and followed Jesus and became a passionate follower and a leader. We need to create spaces for young people where they can ask their questions, share their doubts and their struggles and will not be judged so that they too may grow and be challenged and hopefully one day even find Jesus for themselves. What we need for this to happen is a lot of love, understanding, patience, forgiveness and prayer from our teams, our church-goer young people and ourselves.