It is one of my earliest memories. I was maybe 3 years old, and my mother and my grandmother were probably sick of me. I was always asking questions, and they had things to do, there at my grandparents’ house. So, before they went downstairs to do the laundry and talk, my mother and grandmother took out a big chair and placed it in front of their big plate glass window. Then they picked me up and sat me right down on that chair, and my mother told me – knowing how much I loved watching birds through OUR big plate glass window back home – “David, watch the birds and tell us about them later.”
I was a dutiful little boy, so I stayed seated and watched the usual birds through that window – the robins, the sparrows, the occasional blue jay or cardinal or blackbird…nothing unusual. But then suddenly there was this big, BIG blue bird…a bird with a big blue and green tail that opened out like a big fan, walking around the trees that flanked the window and walking right up to me!
I recall not only being astonished, but I just wanted to let my mother and grandmother know just what I was seeing! So, I got off the chair and ran through the living room and kitchen to the stairs leading down to the basement. I knew I was not supposed to go down those basement steps, so I yelled down, “I saw a big bird! A big bird!” My mother replied, “Fine, David. Now go back to your chair and keep watching.” I did not have the vocabulary to fully explain what I was seeing. I finally blurted out, “A blue maw! I saw a blue maw!” The strangeness of that word “maw” finally got them up to see what I saw – a magnificent male blue and green PEACOCK. I later learned there was a neighbor of my grandparents who had several peacocks that liked to roam the neighborhood and call out their loud peacock call. But at that moment, I was glad. Why? Well, because my mother finally BELIEVED me – she finally believed that I had seen something which was very unusual and special.
Mary Magdalene, many centuries earlier, would have liked to have been BELIEVED, too. You see, on a certain Sunday morning could be seen running from a tomb outside Jerusalem into town, running to a secret second-story room where all the male disciples were hiding from the authorities, afraid to be crucified like Jesus. Unlike all the men but John, she and the other female disciples had been witnesses to Christ’s crucifixion, death, and burial on Good Friday. These women were also the only ones who approached the tomb early on the morning of Easter Sunday. Mary Magdalene and these women witnessed the stone rolled away from the tomb and heard the angels there proclaim that Jesus was not here and that He had risen from the dead; then these women ran to the disciples to tell them, Mary Magdalene taking the lead in doing so.
Here’s the account of what happened next, from Mark 16, starting with verse nine: “Now after Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom He had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with Him, while they were in mourning and weeping. But when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.” The twelve disciples did NOT believe Mary Magdalene’s message; they did not believe HER. Why? Well, there is the strangeness of the message itself. But it might go further than that; after all, women at that time could not testify in court, simply because they were women and not men. Yet Mary Magdalene had the courage to give her witness anyway. We are called, like her, to give our Christian witness anyway. She is our inspiration for that, and for OTHER THINGS as well.
WHAT other things, you may ask, especially at this COVID time? Well, first of all, let’s review one phrase that Mark uses to describe Mary Magdalene. The phrase is this: “Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus cast out seven demons.” We know no more about her healing than that; now it is NOT true that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; for some reason, over the centuries, false descriptions of her sexuality got attached to her. Luke had this to say of those women who followed Jesus: “The twelve men were with Him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: [such as] Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many other women, who provided for [the mission of Christ and the male disciples] out of their resources” – which were probably important financial resources!
Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute, but probably a rich woman. She worked with Joanna, whose husband was a king’s steward, the right-hand man! So, Mary Magdalene was, already, a significant person. Yet she was still, as we all can be, PLAGUED with various mental and/or physical maladies, which Jesus the Healer removed, and she, of course, was eternally grateful to Him. We also know that the demons that Mary was plagued with did NOT return.
There is ANOTHER time when “seven demons” are mentioned in the New Testament, and that is the basis of our “Boost from the Bible” for this week. Jesus proclaims, in Luke 11:24-26, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, the unclean spirit says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ When it comes, [the unclean spirit] finds [the person’s mind and body] swept and put in order. Then [the unclean spirit] goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Here Jesus is talking about the difference between surface changes in one’s life on the one hand, and, on the other hand, true repentance before God. The person in the parable no doubt improved their life for a time, as we often do, say, the first few days of the year due to a New Year’s resolution or the like; Jesus imagines the evil spirit being kicked out of a person, but then bringing seven other bad spirits back to the person to see how he or she is doing. These spirits find everything “put in order” except the most important thing: one’s relationship with God. Because THAT – one’s relationship with God – is missing, it is fairly easy for these (now eight) evil spirits to enter in, so that, as Christ exclaims, “The last state of that person is worse than the first!”
How does this parable – and the story of Mary Magdalene and HER 7 bad spirits – relate to you and me in this strange time? My sense is that we in this time have ample opportunity to reevaluate our lives and also ample opportunity to resolve that, post-COVID, we will do better…act better…even think better! But will we? No…not without the daily prayers to God…not without daily guidance from God…and not without ‘dying to selfishness and rising to new life in Christ’ every day…all three things being things we sinners so desperately need FROM God every day of our lives.
You see, we have been shown by this virus that all of our own plans are nothing compared to what may happen to us beyond our control. Covid came and, out of the blue, disrupted our lives. But, by leaving our striving for control behind, and by placing our lives in God’s loving hands, we will find that, as we move forward, we can make more and more of a difference in the lives of people around us – those dear to us and EVERYONE!
You see, unlike so many of those who were healed by Jesus and then left Jesus to try to run their own lives…MARY MAGDALENE STAYED. She was a true disciple; she gave to fund Christ’s ministry; she stuck around – not only through those three years in Galilee, but through those difficult days at the end, in Jerusalem. She watched her Lord die, and then was ready to care for His body at the tomb when she said to someone she thought was the gardener, “Tell me where you have laid Him?” Jesus revealed Himself to her and then gave Mary Magdalene her first assignment as an apostle – to tell the others that she had seen the Lord, risen from the dead! And she went right away and fulfilled her calling.
We, too, are called, as society begins to open up, to fulfill OUR calling, with a new and fresh burst of energy, and with a deeper connection to the Mission of our Lord. Let us not go back to the seven bad spirits and that way of life; let us allow Jesus to sweep the cobwebs of selfishness and fearfulness clean OUT of our lives; and let us, with great joy in our hearts, let Jesus stay here [the heart]…and here [the head]…where those demons used to hang out. Amen!
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