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Mary Magdalene and the Unsung Providers

By Rev. Richard Williams


I am Rich Williams, a flaming feminist and a member of CUCC, endorsed for

ordination as a chaplain in 2008. I serve two house churches at Boulder Canyon

and Mesa Vista. I bring greetings from these daughter fellowships. I carry on the

work of Rev Jean Scott who attended to shut-ins for CUCC. I wear her stole.

I bring you words for the EAT Sunday, celebrating the divine feminine.


My fondest memories of church were eating together. These were at my Father’s

churches or my Grandmother’s churches in New England, my Mother’s or Aunt’s

churches in the Midwest or the churches I have attended in Canada and Colorado.

The potlucks, the church meals, the gifts of bread and salt were the warm,

providential and welcoming nature of Christianity. A stark contrast to the

important but less enjoyable intellectual sermons and formal ceremonies of my

Father and Grandfather. I wear the robe, my grandmother and mother shared.


It is Communion Sunday which is a chance to celebrate this warmer nature. We

will celebrate this communion with all Christians of all times and places. We will

especially celebrate one particular woman Christian and provider, Mary

Magdalene or Mary the Tower. Think of Mary the Tower as you are provisioned

by the strong leading women of this church at communion this morning.


To start our feast let me offer a few morsels in tribute to strong women. I offer an

historical fact and a quote. First a fact: for the decade of the 1940’s, the highest

paid actor or actress was Ginger Rogers 1 . We all know why she was the highest

paid. She did everything that Fred Astaire did and just as well, but Ginger did it

backwards and in high-heels. Then, a quote: Charlotte Whitton, mayor of Ottawa,

Ontario in 1951, said, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to

be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” 2


Today is dedicated to Mary Magdalene, inspiration for these and many strong

women who excel and who are misjudged and underappreciated. Strong women

have always played an important role in religion, but especially in early Jewish

history and religion. It made sense that they should also do so in Jesus’s

movement. 3 One of the titles for God we sang about in our opening hymn was

“strong mother God” or in Hebrew, El Shaddai. 4 This feminine title for God was

commonly used among the Israelites. Oddly, translators use the neuter English

phrase “God, Almighty” for El Shaddai. Why was that?


Like the strong mother God, strong women were a part of what Jesus required to

make his movement happen. 5 He would need many things: providers with food,

resources; supporters with connections to power and to different communities;

influential people with personal power; lots of volunteers who are loyal,

courageous and smart; followers that are faithful and loyal; a compelling

message; and lastly a charismatic leader with as many of the trappings of

knowledge, recognition and power as possible. Clearly a strong woman, Mary

Magdalene was an important leader in this network of support and fulfilled most

of these roles in building the foundation of the Christian movement.


Priestly Skills and Standing


Mary Magdalene’s pre-Jesus life or her life after seeing the risen Christ are only

oral tradition or recent writings now. It is documented that she became the first

apostle and announced Christ’s resurrection to the other leaders of Jesus’s

movement. 6 We know that she was present when Jesus was crucified. Most of the

rest is inconsistent, slanted toward misogyny or dismissive of her influence and

her critical provision for the Jesus Christ movement -- likely intentionally so.


If one uses the hermeneutics of suspicion, we can recognize a woman who was

dangerous and powerful enough to require six centuries of deprecation and

elision. 7 We have evidence that she was Jesus’s Beloved Disciple, and the most

spiritually developed of the apostles. 8 We can understand why she needed to be

reduced to half as good or less. Some scholars also suspect that Mary Magdalene

was the key witness to the theology and wisdom of Jesus informing the Gospel of

John, as written down by John the Elder or John of Patmos. 9 As one might expect

from Mary, The Gospel of John is a spiritual development guide more than the

history or propaganda in support of a particular apostle. 10 Mary was also

identified as the leader of the mother church at Ephesus. 11 Paul, though he does

not specifically mention Mary Magdalene, was likely influenced by her followers

at Damascus and Antioch. 12


If these things are true, she had a wisdom that was extraordinary. She knew that

Jesus’s crucifixion was coming before the others, she paid very close attention to

Jesus’s teachings sitting at Jesus’s feet. She saw how the Jesus movement could

and would flourish outside of Palestine. She knew to leave Jerusalem to James

and other places to Paul.


Some of this might suggest that she was an outsider from the Jewish cult. There

are a few scholars that suggest that she was a temple priestess for the Samaritan

sect. 13 That her spiritual knowledge and skills as an organizer and provider may

have come from being a leader among the Samaritans, a persecuted minority of

Jews in Palestine.


Mary as a Samaritan priestess would have understood the ideas of Christ as a

liberation from all the oppression of the Samaritans by the Jews and the Romans.

She would have been trained in a similar theology. She would also have had the

skills to be the woman spiritual leader, a priestess of El Shaddai. Jesus may have

sought her out to be the woman leader to compliment male leaders so as to

create a lasting movement. Perhaps a Ginger Rogers for Simon Peter.


Resources and Connections


Mary’s special standing with Samaritans, would have come with many

connections among powerful Samaritans. Their wealth and commitment to

support a liberation from Rome would have been valuable. They would also have

understood that Jesus’s non-violent resistance to Roman colonial powers would

succeed better than collaboration or the war with Rome the Jewish cult expected.


Courage and Intelligence


Clearly, Mary was intelligent and courageous. She saw the world as it was, not

from the wishful thinking of those wanting war. She would have understood as a

member of a marginalized community how one organizes and speaks publicly

while being watched by oppressors. 14 She would have had the courage of her

convictions as a Samaritan Jew to do God’s will and create God’s world on earth

as it is in heaven.


Reliable and Faithful Witness


Mary was reliable and faithful. She did not shrink from being Christ’s spokesman.

As Peter and the others cowered in various places to avoid arrest, Mary with her

Heart of Gold, stood on Golgotha, under the shadow of the cross, reassuring a

deserted Jesus as he died. 15 Mary witnessed for Christ to the end. She had the

love that comes of a special connection to Jesus along with Jesus’s mother Mary.

Their love was a witness to the importance of Jesus and their faith in God and

Jesus’s movement.


A Compelling Example of a Christian Faith Worker


Mary left Jerusalem and the Jews to James. 16 She went early on to Antioch and

Ephesus to continue Christ’s work. She continued her work from Ephesus until she

died there, most scholars guess. 17 Mary was, as were other Christian women,

much too dangerous dead or alive for the Romans and others. As patriarchs

sought to restore “respectability” to the Christian cult, they worked mightily to

keep the spiritual and community expansion that women created and to

eliminate the credit given to women providers and leaders such as Mary

Magdalene. This rewriting of history and expunging of evidence was quite

prodigious and consistent then 18 and perhaps continues even now. As consistent

and vicious as it was and is, the impact of Mary and other women is too much to

completely starve out. We can only guess at the full impact, but it surely feeds us

and our experience in our Christian lives today. 19


Conclusion


To end this course of our feast let us honor Christian women of the past, like

Mary, who were the resourceful providers, the courageous, intelligent supporters,

the reliable, faithful witnesses and the compelling examples of durable and

exemplary faith work. They were the Ginger Rogers’s; they did it twice as well for

all of us. Let us remember the our liberation from smallness into the greatness

that Christ gave to Mary and intends for us. Let us take our place as powerful

Christians and as co-creators of God’s world with these strong women. Let us

thank them and others that were leaned on during those perilous times in the

past. Let us also pray for those we will lean on now and in the future to bring us

through the perilous times ahead. May El Shaddai be willing. Join me in saying,

AMEN.


End Notes

1 See LA Times article by Oliver, Myrna. From the Archives: Movie Great Ginger Rogers Dies at 83, from

2024]

2 Queens University, Whitton, Charlotte (1896-1975), from

3 For more information about women in Judaism, read The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions

of Jewish Women's Spiritual Leadership, by by Rabbi Jill Hammer PhD and Taya Shere.

4 Shaddai is a Hebrew word that means the glands of mammals that provide milk to their young or also

colloquially “mountain”. Like our Grand Tetons. See https://www.ancient-hebrew.org/studies-

words/meaning-of-el-shaddai.htm

5 King, Karen, Jesus and the First Woman Apostle, Polebridge Press / Westar Institute,2003.

6 John 20- 1, 11-19.

7 Clifford, Anne, Introducing Feminist Theology, Orbis Books, 2000.

8 Gospel of Mary Magdalene as translated by King, Karen (op cit).

9 Audlin, J. Gospel of John, Gospel of John Vol I and II, CreateSpace, 2014. This is one of many theories

of the origin of the ideas and text contained in the Gospel of John.

10 Audlin (op cit)

11 King, Karen (op cit)

12 Audlin, J. (op cit) Also note that the letter to the Ephesians is almost certainly not written by Paul and

is pointedly misogynistic.

13 Audlin, J (op cit). Note this is possible, but not generally supported among scholars of the early

Christian church as there is little evidence to support the claim. Corroboration of this may have been

lost in the first four pages of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Of course, absence does not make

scholars grow fonder.

14 Horsley, R., Hidden Transcripts and The Arts Of Resistance: Applying The Work Of James C. Scott To

Jesus And Paul, SBL, 2004

15 John 20- 1, 11-19. and King, Karen (op cit)

16 Eisenman, R., James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and

the Dead Sea Scrolls, Penguin Books, 1998.

17 King, Karen (op cit)

18 King, Karen (op cit)

19 Watterson, Meggan, Mary Magdalene Revealed, Hay House, LLC, 2019.

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