I have chosen to do my reflections in a garden, because the garden plays a very significant place and role in the life of Mary Magdalene and in Christianity as a whole. Mary Magdalene, in the garden, we are told in the Gospels, it was where she encountered the risen Christ and this was the first time that we heard the words of Mary Magdalene; it was the first time that she spoke in the Gospels. And she spoke in the presence of Christ. Christ commissioned her to go and tell the disciples about the message of the resurrection. Now, the message of the resurrection is central to Christian faith. The Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 that without the resurrection of Christ there would be no Christianity. And so here we have a situation where Jesus entrusts to Mary Magdalene the very foundation of Christian faith: to go out and proclaim that, to speak, to open her mouth and speak to the Apostles as an equal.
So who is Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus? We see that Mary Magdalene was with Jesus in all the critical moments of his life. Luke 8:1-4 tells us that in the company of the disciples with Jesus as they traveled around proclaiming the good news women were present. We are told the names of women and Mary Magdalene is one of those. They were the ones that supported the ministry of Jesus, so it means that Mary Magdalene was exposed to the teachings of Jesus. And then we see Mary Magdalene accompany Jesus to the cross. She and other women were there when the disciples were not there. They were at the cross beside Jesus, listening to him, observing in solidarity with his fate. And again in the resurrection narrative it was Mary Magdalene who sees Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, for the first time. She was the first witness and that's amazing! And Jesus said to her, “Go out.” The risen Christ said, “You go out and proclaim,” and gave her the apostolic Commission to preach.
And I want to go back to the garden, and this time the Garden of Eden. And I will make a point for that. There we see Adam and Eve, that's where they were placed by God, and that's where sin entered. But I want to pick up on that narrative and what St. Paul does with it in his letters. In Romans chapter 5, St. Paul describes Jesus as the second Adam. He says that sin came into the world through the first Adam, and Jesus is the second Adam through which grace and salvation comes to the world. But let's look at what he does with Eve. We go to 1 Timothy 2:12 where he says, “Women, be silent.” Very interesting. Jesus says to Mary Magdalene, “Mary Magdalene, speak;” Saint Paul says, “Women, be silent.” Because Eve was the one who was deceived, therefore he says, “I do not permit women to speak, I do not permit women to teach, I do not permit women to have authority over men.” But in the garden when Mary Magdalene was with Jesus, Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go and speak my word over the disciples,” who were men.
So when we look at the apostolic tradition, we know that the apostolic tradition places itself with the Apostle Peter. He was the one given the authority. So we, as women, trace our apostolic tradition to speak, to preach, and to have authority to Mary Magdalene, because that is what was given to her in the garden. Out of the mouth of Jesus she was commissioned to speak. And so what we see in the life of Mary Magdalene we also see in the life of Christ: she was commissioned to speak, and then she was silenced by history, she was vilified, in other words she was crucified. She was turned into a sex worker or a prostitute so that her witness would be silenced. And then now we have a feast day; we are told that she's the apostle to the apostles. Very good.
So what are we going to do with that? We are going to trace our calling to preach, to speak, and to have authority to our apostle Mary Magdalene. She is going to establish a tradition for women, so that we, too, participate in the building of the Church. Mary Magdalene was given authority directly by Jesus to speak, to proclaim, to have power. So when we trace our ministry as women to the Apostleship of Mary Magdalene, we are affirming the feast day because she's the apostle to the apostles. And so we enter into a new era, where women preach, where women speak. Not only do we preach and speak and witness to the gospel, but we speak for ourselves. We regain our voices, we speak of what it means to be a woman in a patriarchy, silenced, vilified, crucified, told that you stay there, you don't speak. We speak our stories, we speak our vision, we speak our thoughts, we speak our mind, we enter every sphere of society as speaking, empowered, powerful women. We enter into the sphere of our Church under the commission of Jesus following the apostolic tradition of Mary Magdalene, commissioned to speak, commissioned to go, commissioned for activity. So the silencing of women does not get its support from Jesus. So we do get our support from Jesus to speak. That's why Catholic women preach, Catholic women speak.
I built on the apostolic tradition of Mary Magdalene. So today as we celebrate the apostolic tradition of Mary Magdalene, we rise up as women. And we say we have a tradition that can be traced to Jesus, that can be traced to a direct commandment from Jesus to speak. To speak. And we shall speak, we shall speak with authority, we shall speak with intelligence, and we shall speak for ourselves. And we will create a parallel tradition that empowers women. We live in a world where women are violated. They are violated, why? Because they are violatable. We live in a world where women are abused. Why? Because they've been abusable. We live in a world where women are excluded. Why? Because they are excludable. We are saying through the apostolic tradition of Mary Magdalene that this stops. We are going to rise up as empowered women knowing that Christ stands with us to speak. To no longer be the subjects of vilification, no longer be the subjects of abuse and violence. We are going to rise up. Jesus rose, but he was violated but he rose in a body that can no longer be violated, and so when we proclaim resurrection we are wanting a resurrected body that no longer is violated, and that is the apostolic commission, the apostolic tradition for women through Mary Magdalene. So we celebrate Mary Magdalene as women. So we pray: we consult you, our apostle, the one who directly saw and lived and walked with Jesus. Just as you witness his resurrected body beyond violation, help us to have bodies beyond violation, voices beyond violation, so that we, too, can speak, can be empowered, and can rise in your apostolic tradition. We pray. Amen.
Dr. Nontando Hadebe is a lay woman theologian and International Coordinator for Side by Side, a faith movement for gender justice. She was previously senior lecturer at St. Augustine College in South Africa, specializing in African Theology, Pastoral & Contextual Theology, Feminist & Womanist Theology, Liberation Theology and Pastoral Psychology.
She is a member of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians as well as the TCCRSA Women's Caucus comprising Catholic women theologians in Africa.
She was Visiting Fellow at the Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University (August-December 2014) and Fulbright scholar in residence at Emmanuel College, Boston (January-May 2015). She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of South Africa, where she participated in groundbreaking research with Professor Marilyn Naidoo on gender and theological education in South African institutions.
She co-edited a book published in August 2021 titled A time like no other: Covid 19 in Women's voices which is a collection of women's stories and theologies during covid-19 in South Africa.
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