WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
What are you looking for? It’s a good question don’t you think? I would like to look at this question through the lens of Mary Magdalene. Let’s be honest, when we think of her what comes to mind? This is the woman who had not one, not two, but seven demons that Jesus delivered her from. How would you like to be remembered for that? We can imagine the stigma associated with her condition. We can imagine her isolation dodging the glares of judgment, her self-condemnation, her sense of being ostracized from society, and her loneliness.
Yes, Mary Magdalene was the woman who was delivered from seven demons. Seven indicates the severity of her condition. Remember she was still living under the old covenant; therefore, in the Jewish tradition, they would have understood she was cursed. Her city, Magdala, was the home of many Greeks and was known for it’s Hellenistic culture and thriving economics, so even though her peers may not have judged her according to the Jewish tradition, she would not be protected from the emotional and psychological trauma seven demons would have caused her in interactions with this culture either. But, Jesus interrupts her life story and changes everything. From this point on, Mary’s story line is one of complete devotion to Christ. Her experience no longer determined her identity; rather, she belonged to Jesus.
We know Mary traveled with Jesus; therefore, she left everything to follow Him. Luke 8 places Mary at the beginning of His ministry. And John 20 places her at the tomb. Her name is mentioned at least twelve times, which is more than many of the apostles. Scripture tells us that Mary, along with other women, supported Jesus out of their private means (financially). Each time the women were mentioned Mary was listed first, except at the cross where His mother was listed first. This alludes to her leadership role among the women. She was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus, the crucifixion, the burial, the empty tomb, and the resurrected King.
Jesus edited the story line of Mary’s life. All the things we can imagine she experienced were changed in this encounter. This was freedom and restoration. Mary’s response was more than a servant’s response. This heart of gratitude, and love, moved her into conventional love, a familial love.
On the Internet I found a poem about her, no author was given, which I want to share because it opens up Mary’s heart to us. “Not she with traitors kiss her Master stung; not she denied with unfaithful tongue; She, when Apostles fled, could dangers brave; last at the cross, and earliest at the grave.” Nothing could stop Mary’s pursuit of this One, the One who truly saw her, knew her, would step into her mess, and never turn away. Mary’s desire for the person, Jesus was rewarded beyond what she, and many of us could ever imagine.
What can we learn from her life? Looking at John 20:1-16 (which you may wish to read on your own); the scripture opens up with Mary, while still dark, went to the tomb. As you read this passage, consider the contrasts. What did the disciples do? What did Mary do? God loves us all, there is no condemnation, and it is by grace we are saved – yet, we see there is a reward for those who are single-eyed, tenacious and determined in their devotion above their peers to the man, Jesus. As we continue, consider contrasts you might notice…be alert to what you can learn.
The first thing I notice is Mary took no thought of herself, or what she had hoped for, nor did she have an agenda. She was sitting across from the tomb when Jesus’ lifeless body was laid inside. She saw the huge stone that was rolled in front of the tomb. However, early in the dark of day, alone, she journeyed. She wasn’t thinking how would I move the huge stone? In contrast to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, who said we had hoped He was the deliverer of Israel.” None of these things consumed her; Mary was looking for the body. Love takes you places beyond obstacles and fears. Love compels often beyond reason. Love pushes you on in the dark.
As I continue in Mary’s story I see her love desire could not be quenched, nor denied. Mary arrives at the tomb, sees the stone has been moved, and the tomb is empty. She runs to tell the disciples. The disciples run to see this thing that Mary spoke of. Scripture tells us that the disciples believed; however, they did not yet have understanding of the resurrection. It is unclear exactly what the disciples believed. We do know, that at this time in history a woman’s witness was not accepted or considered reliable in court. Perhaps they believed the tomb was empty as Mary testified. How did the disciples respond to this new information? Verse ten tells us the disciples went away to their own homes. We don’t know what they were thinking, no emotion is recorded, but they didn’t stay. They went away again.
Mary weeping, stays in the last place she saw the One she loved. She didn’t walk away from the pain, or turn from Him because she couldn’t understand. In the midst of her greatest struggle, Mary looked for Him. Somehow, someway she was undeniably certain – He could be found, even if no one else was with her.
Nothing could have prepared Mary for what was about to happen. The greatest depths of despair suddenly turned to her highest joy. She found what she was looking for – Jesus. Here there is an invitation to change the question: from what to who are you looking for? So many times we are thinking what are we looking for, and the truer question is “who” are we looking for? Our deepest need is always the person, Jesus. Returning to Mary’s story we see how she is rewarded.
She walks into the tomb. The very tomb the disciples walked into and found empty. There is no indication that Mary saw anyone else enter the tomb. If someone had been there previously, I’m sure the disciples would have questioned them. Even if they didn’t appear as angels with wings, we could agree don’t you think, that something crazy otherworldly was happening?
But, Mary was not distracted from her pursuit. Something beautiful was happening, something heavenly, and something so beyond her understanding. Yet, she did not stop there either; she had to have the person, the man Jesus. “Do you know where they laid Him?” I hear the voice of the Shulamite woman sounding in my ears – Do you know where He is? I’m coming through the pain, the darkness, the archway of trust into the mystery and I will find Him.
Mary has already moved away from being a servant, she was a lover and hopelessly devoted; no water could quench this fiery love. This relationship took her beyond what others were experiencing. Jesus could not resist her and we find Him standing behind her outside the tomb. Jesus says “Woman, why are you crying?” I would like to suggest when He first addressed her “woman” she did not recognize Him, nor did it awaken anything in her heart – it was just another voice. Without intimacy we may only hear another voice – nothing awakened or empowered in us.
However, Mary truly walked intimately with Him because she cultivated a life from watching, participating, and serving Jesus. She became deeply acquainted with His voice and the tenderness she heard when He called her name. She had been in messes before so hearing her name she knew -- He was the one who knew her best. She recognized His familial voice, “Mary.” She heard the voice of the one who shared history with her, who had personal knowledge of her past, present, future and her whole being awakened. “Rabboni” she cried. Mary found who she was looking for. She was home.
The specific word Rabboni is used only twice in the New Testament. This most honorable title was used here and by the man healed of blindness. When our blindness, spiritually or physically, is healed we see His greatness. Jesus was Mary’s great and exceeding reward. Her ability to follow where none of the other followers could go brought her into an experience no other could claim. She was first to see the resurrected body. And in a world where women were discounted as witnesses, she was first to herald the news of what she saw: He is alive! What He told us is true! My God, and your God is alive!
This is a powerful story with many lessons for us. A heart of gratefulness, of knowing you are known, loved, and free develops a love desire that no darkness, obstacles, supernatural occurrences, or agendas can distract. This kind of love is always rewarded. However, I want to end by focusing on supernatural distraction. We live in a beautiful culture where we experience so many supernatural occurrences. Are we watching? Are we seeing only the acts or are we seeing Him? Are we being drawn out of intimacy, out of being known, hearing our name called, and knowing our greatest reward is the person Jesus?
If I may, I would like to share a story that marked my relationship with Jesus forever. Remember as I share, this is a personal story and everyone is living out their own story. So, what I am not saying here is that everyone should have been experiencing what I was experiencing in this scenario as each person was indeed having his or her own encounter.
To this day, we were engaged in one of the most powerful worship times I ever participated in. It was simple: one guitar, small gathering, and in my home. Words are hard to find to explain. However, in those mystical, magical, moments where His world is more tangible than this world it is understandable without words. All of sudden, worship stopped and the focus shifted to what was happening, rather than the “who” was happening. I felt a sword cut into my gut and doubled over. In that moment, without thought, I ran into the back yard and dropped to my knees. I began repenting for making this about a “what” instead of a “who.” As I cried in His presence, a gentle breeze went past my face. Whispering, I said, “You are here aren’t you?” I opened my eyes and the very atmosphere was fluidly moving. I knew nothing separated me from His world. I was marked and would never be the same by that moment. Nothing and no one can every take that moment away. It was a thin place; I was brought into something so beautifully profound and I hope, in someway you can feel it as words fall short. You see, I’m not suggesting that we have relationship without supernatural occurrences, not one without the other. Maybe I am suggesting, as Mary did, stay there until you find Him. In the midst of pain, darkness, obstacles, nay-sayers, and disappointments, stay there and find Him, your great and exceeding reward. My hope is you are gripped, not with “what” but “Who” you are looking for.
Written by: Peggy Filasky