How the Church Maligned the Magdalene (and all women with her)

For 2000 years, the Catholic Church (and most Christian churches) have led us to believe that Mary Magdalene is the sinful, presumably adulterous woman from scripture. Even after “correcting” this mistake in the late 60’s, the Magdalene continues to be associated with the sinful woman.  This Sunday’s gospel proves that the Church’s agenda continues to be the maligning of the Magdalene  – and all women with her.

This morning, I find I need to rant a little. Ok, maybe a lot!  As I am reading this Sunday’s gospel in preparation for writing my weekly Empowerment Newsletter, I see there are two options for the Sunday gospel:  Luke 7: 36 – 8:3 or Luke 7: 36 – 50.  Normally, I would insist on using the gospel reading in its entirety because in the shorter version, critical contextual information is often missing.  Not this week, however, not this week.  Why? I will let you decide for yourself:

Luke 7: 36 – 50

A Pharisee invited Jesus to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 8: 1-3 Afterward he journeyed from one town and village to another, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.



The first option for Sunday’s gospel tells the story of the “sinful woman” who came to Jesus, bathed his feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and then anointed him. The second option for Sunday’s gospel includes the beginning of Chapter 8, which describes the women who accompanied Jesus in him ministry, including Mary, called Magdalene (a title given to her which means “Great Tower”) “from whom seven demons had gone out.”

In describing what is wrong with this inclusion, I share with you an excerpt from my online course Resurrecting the Magdalene:

The Sinful Woman

In the year 591 of the Common Era (C.E.), Pope Gregory I in Homily 33 set the course for the next two-thousand years in which Mary Magdalene would be associated with the “sinful woman”  mentioned in the gospel of Luke chapter 7, (that and every other story in Christian scripture that mentions a sinful or adulterous woman).  Every preacher since then has agreed on this account.  Church teaching has reflected these sentiments, and artistic portrayals throughout history, including popular films such as Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ continue with this theme, casting Mary Magdalene in the role of repentant whore.

Pope Gregory I came to his conclusion through the simple assumption that because Mary is mentioned in the reading immediately following the story of the “sinful woman” (Luke 8:1-3) that the two women must be one and the same, especially in light of the mention of Mary as having been “cured of seven demons” (more on the “demons” below). He assumed that the “demons” Mary was cured of were somehow sexual in nature.  Pope Gregory I was not the first to make this mistake.  The demonizing of Mary and the suppression of her role in Jesus’s life and ministry; and in the early development of Christianity, began long before Pope Gregory I and his now infamous homily.  In the Gospel of Mary (discovered in a desert cave in Egypt in 1896, and which we will spend time with near the end of this course), we learn that the suppression of Mary’s role began in the first few days or weeks immediately following Jesus’ death and resurrection.  In fact, the denigration of Mary began even before that in the moment she delivered the message of the resurrection to the male disciples who unanimously refused to believe her.  It was not until Jesus himself stood in their midst that the male disciples were willing to believe.

As soon as Jesus left the scene (and likely even while he lived), Mary’s role as student, disciple, empowered minister co-equal with Jesus, and possibly his wife was challenged, questioned, and then flat-out ignored. Mary,  the feminine empowerment Jesus tried to bring forth, and the feminine principle that he honored and modeled as equal that of the (holy) masculine, were quickly forsaken in favor of the unholy masculine (rooted in fear, power and control) prevalent in Roman and Hebrew culture at the time.  As the feminine principle was rejected, so too was Mary, called Magdalene, and the critical role she played in the life and ministry of Jesus and in the continuation of his mission after his death.  It was easier to cast Mary in the role of harlot than to acknowledge to a patriarchal world that women had power and that Jesus supported their empowerment.

Lewis Williams, SFO

Lewis Williams, SFO

Now back to my rant…..It angers me beyond measure that this tradition of associating Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman continues! The Church maligned Mary 2000 years ago to further a patriarchal, hierarchical agenda and clearly this continues to be their agenda OR this Sunday’s gospel would not include the passage from Luke 8 whereby uninformed readers will continue to make this association.  It is easier for the Church to continue to malign the Magdalene – and all women with her, than to risk losing the power they believe they have in maintaining a hierarchical, patriarchal institution.  This is wrong on so many levels and I’m not afraid or ashamed to be emotional about this!  THIS is where the Church first went wrong all those years ago, divorcing itself from HALF of its subjects by denying the role the Magdalene had as devoted disciple, co-equal minister with Jesus, his beloved partner (perhaps even his WIFE) the SOLE witness to the resurrection and THE ONE Jesus sent to share the good news and to continue his ministry in his stead.  Continuing to associate Mary, called Magdalene, with the sinful woman deprives her of her rightful place in the Jesus story and in doing so, the Church has deprived all women their right to live out the fullness of their dignity and giftedness in the Church.  But I guess I should thank the Church for continuing to deny the role of Mary Magdalene and all women with her because it is through this oversight that the Order of the Magdalene and the Magdalene Priest/ess-hood came to be.  So there!


To learn more about the Order of the Magdalene, click HERE.

To learn more about Magdalene Priest/ess Training click HERE. Better yet, take the FREE preview course available HERE.

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About Your Spiritual Truth

I am a trained, professional Spiritual Director, Author and Hands-on Healer. I offer services, programs and classes that empower you to hear the voice of the Divine that speaks from within you. It is the voice of the Divine that leads us to our highest truth, to the discovery and cultivation of our gifts and to a life of Authentic Freedom where we know contentment, compassion and joy. Your truth will set you free!
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