We stepped out the church doors into the mild winter evening and my two-year-old son, Basil, burst into tears.
“I didn’t do it well!” he sobbed.
“What? What didn’t you do well?”
“The high five. I didn’t do it well!”
“Oh. Do you just need to be sad? Or do you need to go back and try again?”
“I need to go back and try again.”
My husband took Basil back inside the church.
“I’m sorry,” he said to the pastor who was standing by the doors to greet the congregants on their way out. “My son really needs to try that high five again.”
Smiling she raised her right arm and enthusiastically high-fived Basil. He beamed. Tattooed on the pastor’s forearm is a portrait of Mary Magdalene. When asked why (not by us), she responds, “I guess to remind myself that I have the authority to do this.”
I realize that my cute story just took a really sharp turn and may have landed you smack in a puddle of discomfort if not a pile of questions. I’ve been there. But I believe that the sacred scriptures tell a story, a redemptive one, and not just for the redemption of our souls. Let’s follow a very rough recount of this story.
Man and woman are partnered in the garden in peace and with purpose, but then everything falls apart. As a result of the curse the man rules over his wife (Genesis 3:16). Patriarchy becomes a way of life, of organizing and cataloguing people groups, embedded in culture, inherited by tradition, generally unchallenged and exported. We modern folk inherit a form of it and become progressively uncomfortable with some of the inherent abuses and inequities, so we liberate and assume that what remains is as God intended it because it is in the letters of the brilliant apostle Paul. But some theologians have postulated that during his times and in his places, Paul’s teachings and writings were radically progressive, particularly for women.
Could there be more good news for us? An exhilarating curse-crushing crux of the story?
In another garden the most significant moment in a real relationship between a man and a woman is a new thing. Mary Magdalene is weeping, alone now, outside of the empty tomb. She’s already spoken with angels. Peter and John have been there and gone away. The other women have left, but Mary Magdalene…where else would she go? Even now, she knows there is life nowhere else.
“Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”
She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and get him.”
“Mary!” Jesus said. (Luke 20:15-16, NLT)
And she knew him. She knew the sound of her name on her Savior’s lips. As the first to encounter the resurrected Jesus, he instructed her to go find the men and give them a message. She found them and announcing, “I have seen the Lord!” she gave them his message (17-18).
Mary Magdalene isn’t edgy because she had seven demons and maybe a past, or because she wasted her money and affections as a loyal disciple and financial supporter of Jesus. Mary Magdalene is as sharp as steel because she showed up when there was nothing left to show up for, she encountered and she believed. And believing she didn’t hold back. We don’t derive authority from Mary Magdalene; ours comes from the same place any believer’s comes from: God who in the person of Jesus Christ made himself known to us and dwells in us by His Spirit. We see it modeled in Mary Magdalene.
So, do whatever it is that you do. Bless the children, be excellent in your work, pursue knowledge, think, question, ask for what you need, own a mistake or failure, make a change, speak up when you know something to be true, teach it at the kitchen table or from a podium. And listen. Listen for the sound of your name on the Savior’s lips and his instructions for you that are bursting with newness and life. And then go do it, with authority.
How do you hold back? What would you do if you knew you had the authority to do it?