THE NEW TESTAMENT stories of Mary Magdalene—and the way the church has treated her since biblical times—tell us a lot about the church today, and perhaps even more about our still-patriarchal society in general. In scripture, and in other contemporaneous documents, Mary is portrayed as one of Jesus’ closest confidants; after his resurrection, Jesus appears to her first and commissions her to tell the others (John 20). But, as Kyndall Rae Rothaus explains in this issue, the church has had a difficult time accepting the biblical portrait of Mary as one of Jesus’ closest and most faithful disciples. Instead, beginning most notably with a 6th- century papal sermon that called her a prostitute, Mary has been portrayed as a “fallen woman” in need of repentance or, sometimes, as Jesus’ lover, but not as the “apostle to the apostles” she became by merit.
Why does it matter that we get Mary Magdalene right? As Rothaus explains, the way the church has treated her says more about the church than it does about Mary—and that reclaiming Mary, the first witness to the resurrection, offers us a chance to get a glimpse of that same resurrection hope.