Sharon W. Betters
Soon afterward He went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means (Luke 8:1-4).
Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons… Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb… After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb (Matthew 27:56, 61; 28:1 also Mark 15:40, 47, 16:1, 9; Luke 8:2, 24:10; John 19:25, 20:1, 11, 18).
It is hard for us to fully grasp how limited women were in the days of Jesus. They were considered the property of men and had few rights. Women responded with joy to the radical way in which Jesus treated women. Many women followed Him, which means He was their teacher, shepherd, rabbi. They traveled with Jesus and the disciples and “provided for them out of their means”.
More than one woman followed Jesus because He healed her of evil spirits and infirmities:
…and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out… (Luke 8:2).
Let’s walk with Mary Magdalene and remember her story. Mary was from Magdala, a town in Galilee. She was probably independently wealthy because after meeting Jesus, she supported Him out of her own means. We don’t know when or how Jesus healed Mary, whether it was a one-time event or gradual. What we do know is that she was very, very ill. Today we might label someone as demon-possessed because their behavior is bizarre, and we have no other explanation. In the time of Jesus, people often attributed any illness to the work of demons, including physical and mental diseases. The demons could be from dead people, animals, or just plain terrifying monsters. Mary must have been extremely ill because Luke tells us she was healed from the possession of seven demons. The number seven is often used in Scripture to indicate “complete”. Mary’s illness involved every part of her.
If she could talk to us today, I think she would tell us about how she lived with terror and danger because of the seven demons possessing her. A demon-possessed person was a danger to themselves and to others. However, we don’t know if Mary wandered the streets of Magdala, crying out for help or if she suffered alone in her home, surrounded by wealth, incapable of enjoying life.
Those who loved her may have abandoned her long before, unable to help her have any kind of productive life. Or they may have faithfully cared for her with no hope she would ever be healed. The darkness was too great. BUT, when Jesus came, “the light entered the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome the light”. Pause a moment and absorb the truth of these few words. Our first Christmas without Mark I concluded I would not breathe if my body did not breathe on its own. I begged God for mercy and watched for the treasures He promised to send. On a cold, gloomy afternoon, I opened a Christmas card and saw a dark night sky with one bright star and the words…
“The light enters the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it” (John 1:5).
Those few words reminded me that no matter how dark, one light not only flickered but glowed and led me into the heart of Jesus. My grief would not have the last word. The light of Jesus glowed in my darkness, leading me to His heart. His light broke the midnight of Mary’s soul.
I wonder what hopeful words drew Mary to Jesus. She experienced resurrection power that transformed her personal world. Somehow Jesus touched her, and new life exploded throughout her body and soul. She had no choice but to follow the One Who saved her in every way.
Luke mentions Mary first (Luke 8:1-4). She is mentioned twelve times in the gospels, always in the context of her personal relationship to Jesus. We can conclude that Mary led the women followers and Peter the male followers. It was not unusual for men and women to travel as groups, though in this case, they traveled as one group. She stays close to the One who broke the darkness. I love this picture of a woman who responds to grace by giving her whole life to the One Who saved her. Imagine with me Mary organizing the other women, assigning tasks, leading conversations in response to Jesus’ teaching, asking each one how she will respond to His call to mercy. Imagine the women spreading out through the crowds, praying for the Lord to lead them to the one woman who needed to experience Jesus’ love through their hands, eyes, help.
Conjecture? Yes. But I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to imagine these women practicing the very life-giving principles taught by Jesus. Mary did not follow because of the rules or expectations of others. She did not follow in order to work her way to heaven. She followed Jesus because she could do nothing else.
It is the Friday that men call good. Mary stands with the inner circle of women in the life of Jesus.
Let’s remember these women had stayed close to Jesus and experienced not just the hours at the Cross but days of watching Jesus tortured and not knowing what was coming next. My husband is Lebanese, and I have witnessed the wailing of Middle Eastern women at funerals. It is not hard for me to hear the wails of the women standing at the Cross and those standing afar off. Put yourself at the foot of the Cross and imagine reaching out to touch the bloodied feet of Jesus, the One who loves you more than anyone. Picture yourself clinging to the other women in terror as the earth shook and the rocks were split, and darkness covered the earth:
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27:50-56).
And then they watched as Joseph of Arimathea risked his own life and reputation to claim the body of Jesus:
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).
I imagine the women gathered later that night, crying, speaking softly, trying to comfort one another, trying to make sense of what happened. How many times did they go back over the words of Jesus and try to understand how His crucifixion fit into His teaching. How many sat alone, too broken to speak? We, too, have seasons where life slams us and shock forces us to reexamine our own beliefs. These times confront us with a choice, just as the crucifixion confronted the followers of Jesus.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sharon W. Betters is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, pastor’s wife, and cofounder of MARKINC Ministries, where she is the Director of Resource Development. Sharon is the author of several books, including Treasures of Encouragement, Treasures in Darkness, and co-author with Susan Hunt of Aging with Grace. She is the co-host of the Help & Hope podcast and writes Daily Treasure, an online devotional.
For more from Daily Treasure please visit MARKINC.ORG.