We are studying John 20:10-18, along with Luke 8:1-3 and Mark 15:40, for Sunday, February 14. This is the third in a series of lessons on women called to minister in some way in the New Testament. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are some questions we might want to consider as we reflect on these texts:
These texts have been chosen to focus on the figure of Mary Magdalene. What ideas or impressions do we already have of Mary Magdalene? Where have those come from? [For instance: western art; preaching we have heard in church; popular reading?] How do these ideas or impressions seem to influence the way we read Biblical texts that include her?
The short texts from Luke and Mark document Mary Magdalene’s involvement with the early “Jesus movement,” and her presence at the crucifixion, along with other named and unnamed women.
How does reading about these women affect our mental picture of the people who followed Jesus? What thoughts and feelings do we notice? Why, do we think?
If we think of the human experience of witnessing the crucifixion, what thoughts and feelings do we notice?
[Possibly more personal: Meditation on or contemplation of the crucifixion is one traditional Christian practice. What role does that practice play, or what role has it played, in our own Christian practice?]
We can read John 20:10-18 as a story that records, and evokes, human experience. From that perspective, what do we notice as we read this story? For instance, do we identify with Mary Magdalene, or do we experience ourselves more as “observers”? How do we imagine the setting and action? What thoughts and feelings arise? What meaning does the story have for us?
We could also read John 20:10-18 as a symbolic model of “the Christian experience,” as a movement from being without Christ, through moments of suggestion and encounter but without clear understanding, to recognition of Jesus as present, and as teacher and friend, and finally to sharing the encounter with others.
If we do that, what do we notice about our own response to the story? What features of the story parallel or illuminate our own Christian experience? Why, do we think? Do we gain any insight from reading the story this way? What insight?
[Maybe more theoretical] What do we mean by the term “disciple” – that is, how do we use that term? How does the way we use the term seem similar to, or different from, the way the gospel of John uses the term?
Mary Magdalene is not identified as a “disciple” in the gospel of John. Would we call her a “disciple” today? Why, or why not?
[But also more personal] Would we call ourselves “disciples”? Why, or why not?
Overall: In these lessons about women in the New Testament, we are likely to run into our own preconceptions about women’s roles, and into our existing theology and practice regarding gender, especially in the context of church life. We may also have preconceptions about what gender roles and social arrangements were in Bible times. Our concerns are most likely different from those of the authors, and the early readers. Nevertheless, those concerns presumably influence the way we read these texts and try to understand how they relate to us.
I don’t have many words of wisdom about this, except that I think it’s a good idea to pay attention to what we ourselves bring to the text. If we don’t do that, we might simply find ourselves “reading” the contents of our own minds, and thinking we’re reading “The Bible.”
When we walk into an art museum, we take off our sunglasses. But if we’re nearsighted, or have astigmatism, we still need some kind of glasses. What kind of “mental glasses” we need to take off, or put on, or even just be aware of, when we read the Bible is always a question. We may especially need to remind ourselves of it with these texts.
Images: Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection to the apostles, from St. Albans Psalter, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; Icon of Maria Magdalene as holy myrrhbearer, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.