Mary Magdalene was the first eyewitness of the Risen Jesus and the first to proclaim this to his disciples, and so she could rightly be titled ‘the Apostle to the Apostles’, but she never was. Furthermore, when in the Acts of the Apostles we are told of the disciples seeking to find a replacement for Judas Iscariot, they laid down the criteria for his replacement, namely, “So one who has accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us – one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Two were proposed, Mary could have been, but she wasn’t, but she had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and had contributed financially to his cause. She was present at the Crucifixion, when only one of the twelve were, and after Jesus’ death took spices to the tomb to anoint his body. Therefore why wasn’t she titled an Apostle and considered to be eligible to be one of the Twelve? For one reason only, because she was a woman.
This of course is a reflection of the society of the day whereby a woman could not be a legal witness nor testify in court nor speak in the Synagogue or Temple. This partly explains why when Mary had found Jesus’ tomb empty on that Easter morning that when she went and told Peter and John of this fact they seemed not to believe her and had to check for themselves for Mary’s word alone bore no weight. The other side of the coin in that situation, in Peter and John’s defence, is that they reacted with that most human of responses, ‘I’ve got to see this for myself.”
All of which leads for me to the question, ‘Why did Jesus choose to appear to Mary Magdalene first?’ He could have just as easily appeared to Peter or John or both of them at the tomb, but no he chose to appear first to Mary, why?
Could it be because other than the Virgin Mary, no person in the Gospel demonstrated more courage and commitment to Jesus than Mary Magdalene? Or because Mary, of all his followers and even more so than the twelve disciples, really understood who Jesus was and what his message truly meant. She understood what Jesus meant when he said his kingdom was not of this world, though the disciples still believed he would come as the second David to deliver Israel from its subjugation by the Romans. She understood Jesus’ kingdom would be a kingdom of love.
Or was it because she was the first to return to the tomb. She was the first to seek eagerly where they had laid the body of Christ. She was the first to report that the body was missing. It was only natural that she should be the first to see the Lord whom she loved more than life.
Some theologians have posited that it could have been because Mary was Jesus’ wife. Bishop John Spong has claimed that Mary was Jesus’ wife, and I attended a lecture he gave in Wellington where he so argued, but I didn’t agree with his reasoning as it centred a lot around his take on the wedding in Cana and my reflection on his case was that he obviously had never himself attended a wedding in a small rural community.
Or was it because Jesus wanted to establish clearly and emphatically that women were equally able to witness to his resurrection and proclaim that event not only to his disciples, but also to the wider community and world.
Whatever the reason was we acknowledge that Mary Magdalene was the first to see the Risen Jesus and the first to testify to his resurrection and so we should seek to walk in her footsteps as the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ and witness to the risen Christ we have met and know.