The Spiritual Practice of Letting Go – The Story of Mary Magdalene

red and orange autumn leaves on the ground and on trees beside body of water

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INTRODUCTION

“There is a right time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Spiritual Exercise: Consider a leaf and the tree it was attached to until recently. Thinking like the tree that must released the leaf, imagine how the tree feels, as this leaf and a hundred others begin to drop from its branches.

“If I was the tree dropping this leaf, it feels like………………………….” (Discuss)

And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor……………………………………………………………………

Matthew 27:55 – 56, 61; 28:1 – Mark 15:40, 47; 16: 1-19 – Luke 8:2; 24:10; – John 19:25; 20: 1-18

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

In the gospel accounts, we are accustomed to thinking of The Twelve – the 12 male disciples of Jesus, who all devoted their lives (at least in part) to following their Messiah. In order to think of the ways in which the disciples followed Jesus, we have also been taught about their sacrifices of “letting go” – letting go of their livelihoods, letting go of their families, letting go of their future expectations for themselves, letting of go whatever wealth they acquired, and ultimately letting go of everything to follow Him. In all of the four gospel accounts, the Twelve are presented as men who let go of everything to answer the call of Jesus, the Christ.

But what of the women who followed Jesus? How did their lives change when they encounter Jesus and made their life-changing decisions to follow Jesus and devote their lives to Him? Where in the gospel accounts is the record of their decisions and sacrifices? Where are the stories of Jesus’ female disciples letting go of everything to follow Him?

To answer these questions, and more importantly to understand the spiritual practice of “letting go,” we can follow the life of the most important and impressive female disciple/apostle of the gospel accounts, Mary of Magdala.

Mary of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene is mentioned 14 times in the biographies of Jesus (10 times by name). Her undeniable presence is felt even more. In every list that connects Mary to the gospel narrative, her name is usually first – a strong indication of her importance in her relationship with Jesus. The way in which the gospel accounts distinguishes Mary Magdalene (Miriam in Hebrew) from the other “Marys” of Jesus’ biographies, is by the mention of where she was born. Like Jesus, who is often referred to in the gospels as Jesus from Nazareth (or the Nazarene), Mary is referred to as Mary of Magdala or Mary Magdalene. Magdala, is recorded as the birthplace of Mary, and was a thriving coastal city in the Galilee region:

“Magdala means “tower” or “castle,” and in the time of Christ was a thriving, populous town on the coast of Galilee about three miles from Capernaum. Dye works and primitive textile factories added to the wealth of the community. It may be that “The Magdalene” was connected with the industry of the town for it would seem as if she was not without means, enabling her to serve the Lord with her substance.” (biblegateway.com)

In the fourteen references of the most important woman of the New Testament, we find that in no scriptural reference about Mary, a mention of her as a prostitute, even though this is how most Christian church traditions chose to portray her. Instead, Luke the only evangelist who mentions her outside of the Cross Event, informs his audience that Mary was a woman who suffered from demonic possession (“evil spirits and infirmities”). The number seven, describing Mary’s affliction, is to be understood as an extremely severe mental or physical condition. Perhaps Mary was the victim of a violent seizure-like disorder, debilitating or painful headaches, chronic anxiety attacks, or derangement of her mental capacities. Luke’s abbreviated description leads to assumption on our part; however, we can discern from the narrative that her life was overtaken by her illness.

When Jesus heals Mary of her chronic condition, she becomes a devoted disciple of Jesus. We understand like the twelve disciples, Mary “lets go” of her former lifestyle, leaves the district of Magdala, and becomes a devoted follower of Jesus. Moving to different cities and towns with him, Mary is one of the women who provided resources for the ministerial work of Jesus and the twelve disciples. While we do not have the details on the amount of resources Mary contributed to the ministry of Jesus, we do understand by the Lucan narrative that Mary of Magdala and “some other women” generously gave of their personal wealth to support the mission of Jesus:

“Not long afterwards he began a tour of the cities and villages of Galilee to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God, and took his twelve disciples with him. Some women went along from whom he had cast out demons or whom he had healed; among them were Mary Magdalene (Jesus had cast out seven demons from her), Joanna, Chuza’s wife (Chuza was King Herod’s business manager and was in charge of his palace and domestic affairs), Susanna, and many others who were contributing from their private means to the support of Jesus and his disciples.” (Luke 8: 1-3 – The Living Bible)

In this narrative example, Mary releases her monetary resources to support the kingdom of God. Mary’s devotion to Jesus involves an offering of money and servanthood. The spiritual practice of giving her resources, including the offerings of money, time, and service translates to “kingdom currency” that promoted and undergirded the mission of Jesus. Mary’s expressed gratitude to Jesus for the healing and deliverance he afforded her is reflected in the reciprocity of what she offered back to him.

“Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone was rolled aside from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and me [the other disciple whom Jesus loved] and said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!”(John 20: 1-2)

As students of Scripture, we have become so accustomed to this “Easter Story” we miss the profound nature of Mary’s actions. The culture of violence surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion is evident in each gospel account. While the names change in each biography, Mary’s name is a constant throughout the record of the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. In the Johannine narrative, we read that Mary travels in the dark to search out the body of Jesus. Mary “lets go” of the paralyzing fear, witnessed and experienced by the disciples, to seek out the body of Jesus alone. Imagine the fears she overcomes to go it alone: the fear of the dark, the fear of the unknown, the fear of getting caught, and the fear of death, just to name a few.

“Despite the extraordinary fear for their lives the women disciples stood with Jesus in his suffering, sought to honor him in his death, and now become the proclaimers of his resurrection. They preserve the messianic identity of the crucified and resurrected Lord which is [then] entrusted to the circle of the disciples.” (In Memory of Her – Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, pg. 322)

Mary’s radical faith, relentless trust, and unmatched love for Jesus becomes greater than the sum of her fears. In order for Mary’s fears to be defeated, she has to activate a trust greater than her fear, and then let her fear go.

Finally, Mary teaches us how to release one of our greatest fears – the fear of the unknown or the fear of the future. Mary shows us the ultimate spiritual practice of “letting go” when she encounters her Lord in his ascension.

“At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to by brothers and tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” (John 20: 13-17)

Again in the gospel of John, we first find Mary alone. With the courage of a lioness, she stays at to the tomb by herself, after Peter and the beloved disciple leave the place of resurrection. With the exception of the Luke account, Mary Magdalene is recorded as the first witness to the resurrection. In Mark and John, she is THE ONLY witness. In Matthew, “the other Mary” is with her; however she is mentioned first.

John, the evangelist, records an account of Mary of Magdalene who alone witnesses the ascension of Jesus. As she experiences the Risen Christ, Jesus tells her “do not hold on to me……go instead.” Mary, reluctant to accept the new reality of Jesus, attempts to hold on to him, in order to keep him in the same place he occupied in her life: Rabbi, friend, and companion. We are acutely aware of Mary’s fear – a paralyzing reluctance to embrace change. Yet, WITHOUT CHANGE THERE CAN BE NO TRANSFORMATION. Jesus encourages Mary to let go, so that he can transform (move across old form to new form) and so can she. When Mary releases Jesus, he ascends to God and Mary graduates to a new spiritual level – that of the first apostle of Jesus, the Christ. She receives and accepts the magnificent kingdom assignment of taking out the good news of the resurrection to a waiting world.

Mary’s life is a wonderful example of the spiritual practice of “letting go” and why this practice is a necessity in the life of every believer.

BACK TO THE LEAF……………………………………………………………

Like the leaf that falls to the ground, our journey towards spiritual maturation is often a painful process. It often hurts, it often confuses us, and it oftentimes seems like the most frightening thing we will ever do; however, like the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass observed: “Without struggle, there is no progress.”

The spiritual practice of letting go is fraught with struggle, as Mary’s life shows us. Yet, like the leaf, once tethered to the tree branch that falls to the ground, the change permits the tree to experience new life in the spring. Our lives, if we permit, mimic the same cyclical process. The spiritual practice of letting go allows us, like our sister Mary, to become a new creation in Christ Jesus: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he [she] is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold all things become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

QUESTIONS FOR OUR CONSIDERATION:

What happens in our lives when we refuse to let go of something or someone we know we should? Think about what you need to let go of and why.

How does fear talk us into holding on and staying in the same place? Thinking of Mary’s story and your own, what are some of the antidotes to your fears?

How do we know when to hold on and when to let go? In your life, how did you know the difference?

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

“Because we lack a divine Center our need for security has led us into an insane attachment to things. We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like’. Where planned obsolescence leaves off, psychological obsolescence takes over. We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality. It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.”
― Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth

“In the process of letting go, you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.” –Deepak Chopra

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea.” – C. Joybell

“Remember Lot’s Wife!” – There is no transformation without change.

Our Sending Prayer

Loving and Faithful God,
It is our human nature to hold on
It is our human tendency to fight change
It is our human desire to resist the future of which we have no control.

Help us, Oh God, to be like Mary
Fearless and trusting – seeking You even when it seems dark
Help us, Oh God, to be like our sister Mary
Running towards you Jesus, instead of away from You.

Help us, Oh God, to be obedient to Your voice and Your blessed will,
Being still when You direct us, and letting go when it is the season to move on.

We ask for Holy Ghost power and strength to know the difference.
In the sweet name of Jesus, our Risen Christ, we pray.

Amen!

“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters, LLC.  They may be used by you with our permission which may revoked at any time.  All copies of the materials must include the following notice:  “This material is Copyright [2015] Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”

 

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