The message of the two Mary’s

Published 11:46 pm Saturday, April 13, 2024

By R.A. Mathews

This will surprise you.

Despite great discussion about Mary Magdalene today and throughout history, there’s almost nothing in scripture on her life with Jesus. Most of the Gospels only name her at the Crucifixion and Resurrection — Matthew 27:55-56, Mark 15:40, John 19:25.

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So where does she appear during Jesus’ ministry?

Scripture gives us just one sentence. “The twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed … (including) Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out … (and these women) were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:2-3).

That’s it.

As I said, it’s surprising.

But here’s something interesting. Just before Luke writes his one sentence on Mary Magdalene, he describes a dinner. This column is abridged, cut to fit this space, but I’ll gladly send you the unabridged version. Just drop me an email. Here’s the abbreviated dinner passage.

“Now one of the Pharisees was requesting (that Jesus) eat with him … And there was a woman in the city … (who) brought an alabaster vial of perfume, and … she began to wet His feet with her tears, and she wiped them with the hair of her head, and began kissing His feet and anointing them with the perfume.Â

“Now … the Pharisee … said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet He would know … she is a sinner!’” (Luke 7:36-39)

Jesus upbraided the Pharisee and forgave the woman’s sins. Then Scripture continues with the one sentence on Mary Magdalene.

The fact that these two stories stand together doesn’t necessarily mean that the anointing woman was Mary Magdalene. However, a strikingly similar anointing occurred later. And that woman’s name was Mary. Here’s the passage.

“Therefore, six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was… they made Him a dinner there … Mary then took a pound of very expensive perfume of pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair…”  (John 12:1-3)

The one difference is that the woman deemed a sinner wept, but this was before Jesus told her that her sins were forgiven.

The Mary who anointed Jesus and Mary Magdalene have more in common than a first name. The perfume was worth a year’s wage — tens of thousands of dollars. So we know this family was very wealthy.

Look back at Luke’s one line on Mary Magdalene. It suggests that she also had money.

Many scholars reject the idea that the first anointing and the second were by the same woman. That’s because the first occurred in Galilee, far to the north of Jerusalem, while the second was a few miles from that city. To make matters more difficult, there was a third anointing, which I don’t have room to cover here.

The first two anointings were years apart—one as Jesus starts His ministry and the other as His ministry is coming to an end. The pivotal point scholars miss is that it’s clear that Mary, who fell at the feet of Jesus when her brother died, knew Him well. How would that be possible when Jesus’ ministry was predominantly in Galilee and Mary lived far away near Jerusalem?

Unless she also lived in Galilee.

Did this wealthy family have a seaside home? Scripture says Jesus lived in the coastal town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee and taught in the villages nearby. (Matthew 4:13, 23)

The town of Magdala was also on the Sea of Galilee—a city where Mary Magdalene is thought to have lived.

Was the Mary who anointed Jesus and perhaps lived in Magdala the same Mary Luke writes about with his one line? It looks that way.

We may never know for sure but this much is clear—both women touched the heart of Jesus.

Scripture tells us that when Mary fell at the Lord’s feet, grieving, “Jesus wept” with her. (John 11:35)

Just as moving, once Jesus knew Mary Magdalene was at the tomb weeping, He went back, which I describe in my upcoming book, Easter Sunday.

This is significant because Jesus had returned to the land of the living: The angel told Mary Magdalene “Why do you seek the living among the dead. He is not here…” (Luke 24:5-6)

Mary ran to tell Peter and John that Jesus’ body was missing. The two men found the tomb empty and then Mary returned. It’s here, not when she first saw the empty tomb, that she asked the man at the tomb to give her His body, and Jesus appeared to her. (John 20:2-15)

The Lord had gone, but the tears of Mary moved His heart and Jesus returned.

Know that your tears, your heartache, your suffering also touch the heart of Jesus. Stay close to Him. Reach out and talk to God and He will comfort you.

The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a syndicated newspaper faith columnist and the author of Emerald Coast: The Vendetta. Write to her at (Just one t in Mathews)

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