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In 2015, Monica Lewinsky got on a TED stage and talked about her life, story, and the affects of the internet bullying on her life. She got up and said she made a mistake in her 20’s of falling in love with her boss, which doesn’t deal with the power difference between her and her boss, the president. But when the story came out, she was barraged with hateful comments and names about sexual promiscuity and that she was a dumb bimbo. All these years later, the only thing most folks know about her where those few years in the 90’s. It lingers, marks all she does, even as she had tried to move forward with her life from being 20.  She started telling her story in a way to reclaim it, reshape it, and discover it in new ways.

Rumors, titles, names, accusations are wild fires that spread through a population that is curious, looking for the mighty to be brought low, knocked off of high horses and covered in mud. Names, titles we give people, like communist, tramp, easy, linger for decades.

There are a lot of Marys, or in Hebrew Miriams, in the gospels, there were a lot at that time! And it is easy to get confused and mix them up. Giving nicknames or connecting them to another person helps to tell them apart. Mary Magdalene is one of the many. First, we’ve all been told that Magdalene spoke of where she was from, but, there is no historical evidence for a town of Magdala until the 11th century when folks started making pilgrimages to holy sites. So maybe Magdala isn’t where Mary was from but a title given to her–like Simon called Peter or Rocky, and  James and John called the Sons of Thunder. Magdala means tower. Mary the tower, or Magdalene-Toweress. Luke even says it!

Luke 8:1-3 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

“And some women” is quite a statement. There’s no clear understanding of what the infliction the demons were giving her–physical or emotional–but 7 is a number of completeness in the Hebrew scriptures and so she was completely enveloped by them.

In 591, Pope Gregory “the Great” in a Holy Week sermon collapsed all the stories of the women anointing Jesus with oil, found in all four gospels, event is at different times in Jesus ministry, in different people’s homes, with different descriptions of the women, into one narrative. Luke says it was a sinful woman and John says it was Lazarus’s sister Mary of Bethany. So in his sermon, here was this sinful woman who had been freed of 7 demons and those demons and sins were obviously sexual, o and she was a prostitute–according to the Pope. And we love a good story of a person being redeemed and so for 1500 years, Mary Magdalene is called a prostitute. Things are still being said, preached, and published stating that as a fact. Mary Magdalene has been given a bad reputation.

But Mary Magdalene was obviously important. In all 4 Gospels she is at the resurrection. In John she is the one at the cross, the 1 at the tomb, the 1 who meets Jesus after his resurrection, and the 1 who is sent to tell the good news. Where the disciples hide, she is the only one who meets Jesus in the garden. Seems like a big deal.

So it doesn’t really make any sense that the first time we hear about her in John’s Gospel is at Jesus’ death. So what if it doesn’t? What if Magdala was not a place and Mary Magdalene is the same as Mary of Bethany? Theologians have been equating them for 2 millennia.

Ok, we’re about to get real academic about the Bible, but I think we can handle it together.

In 1952, a library of papyri were found in Egypt. One of those they call Papyrus 66 and it’s a nearly complete version of the Gospel of John from around the year 200, the oldest and most complete manuscript to date.

When modern folks are editing and assembling a bible translation, they take the known texts and make interpretation decisions because languages don’t always have a one-to-one translation and because different manuscripts say differing things. Ancient manuscripts were hand copied, notes were added in the margins and then added into the text by the next person. The earliest days of Christianity there were more variations in the texts than there were as time went on. They were collecting the stories and, over time, honing them.

Scholar Elizabeth Schrader Polczer has been working with this and hundreds more and found on this ancient text “corrections.” She thinks the scribe writing Papyrus 66 was working off of 2 manuscripts and in one, in John 11 and 12, it tells the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany, the sisters of Lazarus. And in the other, it tells of Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus.

*It has to do with these manuscripts, these words, and these corrections. In Greek the difference between Mary, Maria in the Greek and Martha is only one letter, which makes it seem like a reasonable correction.

Elizabeth has found that 1 in 5 of nearly 300 manuscripts have this inconsistency with Martha. That there were Marys that had been changed to Martha, that sister had been changed to sisters, that Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, Mary who anointed Jesus in John for his death, had been split in 2. And this is supported, at least in part, by ancient theologians and modern who have wondered but didn’t see this manuscript.

If it was Mary who saw the risen Christ, was at the tomb, was at the crucifixion, anointed Jesus for burial, who also was the first person in this Gospel to declare that Jesus is Lord, instead of Martha, who pops in and is never seen again in this gospel, isn’t remembered for the Christ declaration but for being too busy in the kitchen, if it is Mary who said it, and was first to see the risen Christ, and first to be given a mission from the risen Christ, that makes her a huge deal. And it makes it a huge deal that they may have to make her small.

Over the centuries since Mary, there have been those who have been made to feel small, people who have been oppressed, people who have had all kinds of things said about them. There have been rumors and there have been truths said with judgment. They will say things about you, about followers of Jesus, about our church and the way we love.

We have celebrated Simon called Peter-Rocky. We have decided that our churches and our faith out to be like a rock, firm and unyielding. But in Mary called Magdalene–Toweress, Lighthouse–our faith can rise, can stand with those who the world tries to knock down, can be a light in the night shining the way home. May Mary remind you that what they say isn’t always the way it is, that truth is revealed. May Mary remind you that what they have always thought about you doesn’t mean it’s true, even if the “they” is you. May Mary remind us that there is still yet more to discover and find hope in this ancient faith and this created world. And with Mary the tower, in the midst of the stories they tell, in the midst of being told were less, for all those pushed to the edges, with all those on the margins, we stand.