Now that two more episodes popped up at History.com I have more work to do. I originally thought there were to be only six parts (Pastor Gabe’s review of the first one) I had actually had an overall summary with a few observations in the hopper, but now it will have to wait. On to Episode 7. I apologize in advance for any impending sarcasm.
After the same ‘Series’ introduction, we are told, by various commentators, in the introduction to this specific episode:
“In many senses, she (Mary Magdalene) is the ideal disciple.”(Maybe?)
“She was at the crucifixion, She was at the resurrection.”(True)
“She is the one who receives the message.” Cue Jesus saying “I am ascending to my father.”
“As the first witness to the resurrection, Mary Magdalene is arguably ‘the beginning of Christianity’.” (I’m not sure how that even makes sense.)
The opening scene is a busy Jerusalem street on the day Jesus carried his cross through the city streets.
We hear Mary thinking to herself, “Jesus saved me from myself.” “ He made this woman.” “Who am I without him?” “Some horror is a test for even the strongest and bravest.” “ I am neither, and yet I thought he was going to change the world.” (That Jesus came to ‘change the world’ is a recurring theme in the series.
We see Jesus carrying his cross (the entire cross, not just the cross-beam). He glances over at Mary.
Flashback to ‘months earlier’.
Professor Nicola Denzey Lewis, Professor of Early Christian History, tells us “We first see Mary Magdalene possessed by seven demons. In modern terms it might have been schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or maybe even PTSD.” (Maybe she thought actual demon possession manifested itself in the same sorts of behavior as the issues she mentioned?)
Ms. Lewis adds, “She (Mary Magdalene) comes to Jesus to be healed.” We see Mary pleading with Jesus and asking Jesus, “Do you see them?” Jesus says, “Yes I do.” (See Luke 8:1-3. We are only told that Mary was among some women who had been cured of evil spirits and she had had 7 demons. This dialogue, as well as the exorcism described below were complete fabrications.)
We witness the exorcism. Jesus grasps Mary by the shoulders and Mary’s hands seem to be reaching out for Jesus’ neck. The whole exorcism process looks almost like a wrestling match. Jesus commands the demons, “Come out of the woman, you unclean spirits!” With his hand pressing down on Mary’s head (looked a bit like Benny Hinn, but Mary didn’t fall over/swoon.), he commands the demons again. “Be quiet!” “I command you to come out of her!” (By now, Jesus is breathing heavily – from all the wrestling, I guess.) “Do not enter her again!” Mary steps backward, quiet, peaceful, and healed.
Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, tells what just really happened:
“In that moment, Jesus freed her from whatever the demons were in her life.” “Jesus’ way of life, his teachings, the way he dealt with folks, it sets her free!” (There’s a difference between demonic possession and having ‘demons in your life’)
NOTE: All of the above took place within the first 5 minutes of the episode! Cue to commercials.
After the commercials, we see another non-existent (in the NT) short exchange of words between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Jesus asks “What is your name?” She answers “Mary.” They hug it out.
“This is a life changing moment. She goes from being a deeply troubled person to a follower of a great teacher and preacher.”( Professor Ben Witherington III, Asbbury Theological Seminary)
We are given background information concerning Mary and her connection to Magdala, a city next to the Sea of Galilee. It was more common for women’s names to be connected to their husbands or fathers and quite unusual for a connection to a place. We are also told that many people see her as a ‘sinner’ mostly due to Gregory the Great branding her a prostitute in 591 A.D. (there is an account in Luke 7, of an unnamed woman, called a sinner, anointing Jesus feet at the house of a Pharisee)
Jesus is arrested and Jesus’ followers are seen gathered in a house. Some of the women go looking for Jesus, but the men are too afraid. For their lives.
“The women were at the forefront during the Passion weak” (Dr. Michael Peppard, Assoc. Professor of NT Studies, Fordham University)
We are told that the reason Jesus is being crucified is because he is a threat for both Roman and Religious authorities in Jerusalem.
Then we are watching Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, along with more of Mary’s thoughts as she watched events unfold: “I had seen what he could do. He could have stopped this, but he didn’t Why?”
Joshua Dubois (President Obama’s Faith Advisor) comments on the cross, “The cross is a serious matter, this is a heavy, heavy piece of wood. It weighed between 100 – 300 pounds. (In the film, Jesus is carrying the whole cross, not just the cross-beam, as some would tell us was the custom.)
Jesus falls and Simon of Cyrene is summoned to help him carry it the remaining distance to the crucifixion site.
In this scene, Jesus speaks directly to the women in the crowd, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me, weep for yourselves and for your children”. (See Luke 23). A commentator tells us Jesus is predicting the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the fact that in the future there will be more serious things to lament over. (Most commentaries agree)
We see both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, but also secret followers of Jesus. We will see them again soon.
We are now at Golgotha listening to more of Mary Magdalene’s thoughts (not in the gospel accounts: “I waited for the sky to rain fire, or the sea to sweep us away, and I wanted to take out a sword and cut them all down.” “I could not be his warrior but I could be his witness.” (We will hear some of that last line again.)
Jesus’ cross is raised and there is a lot of crying in the crowd. Mary is thinking again: “Let them all cry. “I will not break.” “I will stand strong before my Lord.” She opens her clenched fists and we see blood on palms of her hands (a stigmata experience?).
We see other accurate depictions of what happened while they were waiting for Jesus to die. The offering of vinegar mixed with gall (a narcotic to dull pain), which Jesus refused, as well; as the mocking.
Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Jesus’ words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”, are critical as a summary , one of the main things Jesus came to Earth to do.” (Prof. Witherington)
Jesus; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (From Psalm 22), and finally. “It is finished!”
We see Mary Magdalene kneeling in front of Jesus on the cross, her hands outstretched and again, the blood on the palms of both hands.
We see the soldier using the spear to finish him off and Mary Magdalene telling him that Jesus is already dead. (Not the way it happened.)
We see Joseph of Arimathea ask for his body so Jesus could receive a proper burial, in the tomb he (Joseph) provided. Pilate seems surprised Jesus is already dead.
Finally, Jesus is carried to the tomb, his body washed and wrapped in linen (also provided by Joseph of A.)
Fast forward to Jesus’ followers gathered in a house, along with Mary Magdalene. The disciples have no idea what to do next. Mary runs from the room to be alone and asks herself “Am I already lost?” “Maybe.”, she answers.
Fast forward to sunrise and Mary goes to the tomb, expecting to be able to anoint the body, which was a usual service provided the dead. The empty tomb. She thinks the body might have been stolen, runs back and reports the empty tomb to the other followers gathered together.
Mary, Peter and another disciple return to the tomb to investigate and go; inside. Mary tells the other two to leave and mourns over the fact of the stolen body. It is then she sees the two angels and is told that Jesus was not there but has risen. She walks out of the tomb, mistakes Jesus for a gardener. The conversation, from John Chapter 20, accurately portrayed in the film:
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!”
It could have ended at that point, but we are provided some ‘interesting’ commentary:
“Some people would say that this moment, the resurrection appearance in the most important moment in the entire gospel. This is proving the truth of Jesus ‘being’, that he had come back from the dead, fully present and incarnate in the flesh.” (Nicola Denzey Lewis)
Jesus sends Jesus to tell the rest that “I am ascending to my father and your father, my God and your God.” (Accurate)
“It’s a beautiful story and a remarkable story, and it makes her the first witness to the risen Jesus, something that early Christians would not make up because the witness of women wasn’t considered as viable as the witness of men.” (Ben Witherington)
“The fact that Mary was the first person to see the risen Christ says that she is the person Jesus trusted most; that this was indeed the person to be trusted with this news. In fact, he gave her an apostolic call in that moment when he said ‘Go and tell.’” “The fact that Jesus revealed himself just to Mary Magdalene after his resurrection makes her the first Apostle!” (Dr. Christina Cleveland, Duke Divinity School)
“Between the time that Mary Magdalene encounters the risen Christ on Easter Sunday and the time she finally proclaims the news of the resurrection to the disciples, Mary Magdalene IS the Church on earth.? “Only Mary Magdalene understood the resurrection, so therefore she is one of the most important people in the entire New Testament.” (Father James Martin, Jesuit Priest)
Finally, Mary Magdalene runs back and tells the rest, “I have seen the Lord!”
And of course we must have Mary’s final thoughts:
“I thought I was lost, but Jesus found me.”
“I am Mary of Magdala, and I am His witness!”
Dan’s final thoughts:
In answer to my ongoing question, “Where’s the gospel?”, this episode has Mary Magdalene sharing the thought that she thought Jesus ‘came to save the world’ in the very first moments of the episode. One of the commentators tells us that one of the reasons Jesus cam to earth had to do with forgiveness. (“Forgive them, for they know not what they do” – Jesus’ words from the cross.) There could have been something said about Jesus dying for the sins of men in Golgotha scenes for sure, but that would have contradicted the “social justice” theme of previous episodes.
As with the previous episodes, this one was filled with the ‘thoughts’ of the main character (Mary Magdalene), which is the advertised purpose of the series – to tell the story of Jesus from the perspective of those who were closest to him. Some of those thoughts have been reasonable while others are just the musings of various leaders in the church and academia, some of whom perhaps have an ‘agenda’ and want to construct a narrative to match the agenda.
Mary Magdalene, although clearly a follower of Jesus, and tremendously significant during the passion week, was attributed a somewhat, if not greatly exaggerated importance by some of the commentators, in my opinion. Is Mary Magdalene the beginning of Christianity, the first Apostle, the Church itself, or the MOST important person in all of the NT?
This was actually a very profitable exercise. I was ready to write a short summary with final observations. I was breathing a sigh of relief (the whole thing was painful). When two more episodes popped up, I was a bit upset and almost stopped anyway. Then I started watching the episode and in under a minute I knew I was going to really enjoy reviewing it!
It also gave me the opportunity to go back to the NT accounts of Mary Magdalene. For that, a simple Google search request gave me everything, in all four gospels! You can find it for yourself here.
Next up: Peter: The Resurrection
Here are the links to the previous Episodes in this series:
Jesus, His Life, Episode 1: Joseph: the Nativity – Pastor Gabe Hughes