by Linda Ryan
What’s in a name? A name is something by which a person, place, thing, animal, rock, planet , tree, or anything else is known to the world, or at least in whatever language is spoken in the area. The name is an important thing. In some cultures knowing the real name of a person or a demon gives power over that entity. Children are given a second name that is their public name while their original birth name is held close and not disclosed. A name can describe a person place or thing like the York River, the Shenandoah Valley, willow tree, clock, kitten, or the Jefferson Memorial. A name is an important thing as it identifies and that identification allows the object to be known among the people.
Today we celebrate the commemoration of Mary Magdalene, called the “apostle to the apostles.” Mary Magdalene, or Mary of Magdala, the town from which she alleged came, was a follower of Jesus, one of the supporters of his ministry and his followers,. She was also known as a notorious sinner, but where that actually came from no one really knows. We know for certain that she was the first one at the tomb, the weeping woman, to whom Jesus appeared on the morning of the resurrection. She is mentioned in the book of Luke is having had seven demons cast out, but these demons were not identified specifically as sins. She was present at the resurrection, but she was also present at the crucifixion, at the base of the cross with Jesus’s mother and others, while the male disciples huddled in fear. To me, that indicates great love, great dedication, and great courage.
It is Gregory the Great who is credited, if that is the proper word for it, with having first referred to Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Down through the centuries, the title stuck, and Mary Magdalene has been presented as a woman of very dubious virtue and sins of promiscuity. Somehow it’s not even surprising that such a charge would be made. After all, sin came into the world through Eve, as some theologies will tell it, and has been passed down from woman to woman throughout the ages. But Mary, even with no real finger of accusation pointing at her in the Bible, lost her good name and spent centuries being known as a very sinful woman whom Jesus forgave and who loved Jesus in gratitude for his forgiveness.
It is a terrible thing to lose one’s good name. For millennia, a person’s name was their bond, their word, and on that name one’s reputation and even one’s family’s reputation was based. To have someone in the family labeled a prostitute immediately cast aspersions on the whole family. If a man were known as a thief or a murderer, it reflected badly on the family, but if a young woman were found to be pregnant or caught even gazing at a male to whom she was not related, there would be the first stone to be cast at her for her lack of virtue. In a way, it’s a wonder that another Mary escaped such talk and such judgment when she mysteriously became pregnant under rather mysterious circumstances. At any rate, Mary Magdalene, on even less proof, lost her good name about possibly in the 5th century, it wasn’t until 1969 that the Western church ceased describing her as a prostitute and restored her name to one who had been forgiven and one who loved much.
These days, it doesn’t seem to take much for someone to lose their good name, or at least to be charged as such. Often rumors are believed far more readily than facts, and gender of the accused is unequal in its exploitation. It very hard to read and watch those who have done many good things being plastered with unfavorable or even insulting terms while those who skulk in the shadows and dark corners of the industry and government and other business are presented as model citizens, their names held in esteem while behind their backs their hands are busy doing evil acts. They complain that people throw stones at them for things like adultery, theft, manipulation and other sins of “me first-ism,” yet many will still follow those people because they simply do not believe that any such charges could be true. For them, the appearance of a good name is more important as actually earning one.
Jesus told us that we should be kind, we should work for the common good and not just our own devices and desires. We are to be part of the kingdom, not the king. We are to have a good name as it were because we follow God and try to do God’s will and not our own. Another way of putting it is we are to be righteous in the halls of heaven based on our lives here on earth. Not just in the eyes of friends, supporters, and constituents, but in the eyes of God.
I think this week I’m going to be looking at times in my life when my good name has been besmirched by someone with an agenda and not because of something I have done. My big job is to forgive the people who did the injury, whether they were aware of it or not. I shouldn’t do it just so I can feel virtuous, it’s what I’m expected to do to be a part of God’s kingdom. I also have to look times when I have perhaps led to others losing their good names and what I should do to make amends for that, if amends are at all possible. It’s going to be a very intense week because these are not easy things to do. But in order to reclaim my own good name, I must allow others the restoration of theirs. God expects it, Jesus commands it, and Mary Magdalene encourages it.
Image: El Greco Mary Magdalene