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Karla entered our lives in the early years of our ministry. Childhood trauma had left Karla unsure of how to cope with the challenges and stresses of living in the real world. She was young, an immature Christian, and had been going through emotional and spiritual turmoil for several months. Her two-year marriage was challenging, and her job was stressful and mentally demanding.
Added to these situations was the burden of her invalid mother, who frequently relied on Karla to care for her physical and emotional needs. Many years before, her mother had left a major religious cult, and she still struggled occasionally with frightening visions and evil oppression. She had recently shared with Karla that she had a trancelike dream of evil images that had terrified her, and that she remembered calling out over and over again for Karla.
As the confusion and tension grew inside her mind, Karla began to have unusual and scary thoughts herself. One day while at work she shared her fears with a coworker, an overzealous believer from a different religious group. Over the lunch hour, the woman insisted upon laying hands on her and praying in an unusual manner.
Within a short time, Karla began tohear voices. Her perception of reality started changing, and she began to have grandiose thoughts about herself.
Later that same day, in an altered state of consciousness, Karla left her job and drove to her neighborhood. Going from door to door, she made bizarre pronouncements about Jesus and the end of the world. She even stopped at a playground to warn the children of impending doom. Concerned about her behavior, one of the neighbors called the police. Even after her husband arrived, Karla was uncooperative.
Her husband decided to take her to the hospital for evaluation. While there, she told the medical staff that she had the power of Jesus. When she began demonstrating unusual strength, she was forcibly restrained and sedated with psychiatric drugs designed to put her in a state of artificial calmness.
This is where we entered the picture. After receiving a phone call about this situation, we began to prayerfully intercede for this desperate young woman. Within the hour, Karla became peaceful and spoke rationally, and the next day she was released from the hospital. The doctor said that she had suffered a nervous breakdown and told her to rest and to take tranquilizers. She remained rational, but her inner turmoil continued.
I (Rebecca) was able to meet with Karla soon after her release. For several hours, God gave me the compassion and patience to listen and to talk with her. Her thoughts were confused and unfocused. What she knew about herself, her life, and her relationship with God were in conflict. At times, she was agitated; occasionally, she cried inconsolably. I believed that she was under demonic oppression. With her permission, in the name of Jesus, I spoke directly to the evil spirits that were torturing her, commanding them to stop and to leave her presence. After this, her countenance relaxed; she became calm and began to concentrate and to understand the spiritual battle that she was going through.
We believed Karla needed a safe, quiet place in which to recover; a place where she could receive counseling and help in a concentrated effort to restore her peace of mind. It was very important for her to know that she could be delivered from all demonic influence and oppression. We discussed Karla's experience with a pastor friend who had written a book about spiritual warfare. He concluded that some of the demonic spirits that had been tormenting Karla's mother had transferred to Karla. We were willing to commit whatever time and effort it would take to see full deliverance and restoration for Karla. Though we were new at dealing with cases like this, we were eager to learn how to fight against demonic spirits. We invited her to stay with us.
Karla was childlike in her thinking and responses. Her concept of who she was in Christ had been shattered. Thoughts of despair and suicide troubled her. She had believed the lies of Satan rather than the truth of Scripture. Through prayer and reading and studying the Bible, God enabled us to guide her back to biblical truth and a "sound mind." As we listened to her and showed gentle, patient love, the Holy Spirit began the healing process of restoring her soul.
We have kept in touch with Karla throughout the years. Her life has not been easy-she's struggled with an unfaithful husband, divorce, single parenting, financial difficulties, health problems, and being misunderstood by others. But she has never wavered in her faith in Jesus, who became the lover of her soul. Just as Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene from her tormenting demons, He also did the same for Karla. And just as Mary Magdalene devoted her life to following Jesus, loving Him more than any other person, so has Karla. Jesus did for them what no one else could-He forgave their sins, delivered them, made them whole, and restored their sanity-is it any wonder that they love Him so?
* * *
One of the best-kept secrets is the role that women played in the early church. And today no woman is receiving more attention than Mary Magdalene.
She is deserving of renewed interest and study. For many centuries she was dismissed as the "penitent prostitute" who interrupted a feast in the house of a Pharisee to show her devotion to Christ. To be sure, the official church was glad she received forgiveness, but the accusation stigmatized her as a woman of the streets. She was grudgingly praised for introducing herself to Christ, but she could not escape the disgrace of the scarlet letter.
This misidentification can be traced back to AD 591 when Pope Gregory gave a message in which he said that the prostitute whose story is recorded in Luke 7 was really Mary Magdalene who was mentioned in Luke 8 as the woman delivered from possession by seven devils. However, scholars agree that there was no reason to make such a connection. In Luke's Gospel the story of the unnamed prostitute is separate from the later reference to Mary Magdalene. Not until the Second Vatican Council in 1964 did the Catholic Church officially correct the error.
Read Luke 8:1-3 and you will agree that the author introduces Mary Magdalene as a new person in the life of Jesus. No effort is made to connect her with the previous story about the woman who anointed Jesus at the feast in Simon's house. Yes, Mary was a troubled woman before she met Jesus, but we have no reason to think that she was a harlot.
Mary Magdalene has come to symbolize the struggle of women throughout the centuries: often misunderstood, casually dismissed, and eclipsed by the role men play in spiritual leadership. This woman who occupied a prominent place in Jesus' life has too often been stigmatized by a church dominated by male leadership that has, at best, grudgingly recognized the contribution women have made to the history of the Christian faith.
Mary Magdalene has many sisters. She provides motivation for all the women who sit in the pews of our churches, desiring an opportunity to serve but unsure whether they will be accepted and affirmed. Many gifted women seek in vain to be validated, to feel useful and respected in meaningful ministry. The story of Mary, whose life began in secret turmoil and ended with a personal affirmation from Jesus, gives us all hope. This woman with a troubled past ended up being the first witness to the resurrection of her Lord.
In the final chapter of this book, we shall discuss the contemporary debate about Mary Magdalene as she is depicted in the Gnostic Gospels and in the novel The Da Vinci Code. We will answer questions about her relationship to the Holy Grail and French royalty. But in the rest of this chapter we will study her place in the New Testament by examining several snapshots of her relationship with Jesus.
TRANSFORMED BY JESUS
Jesus did what no rabbi of His day would ever have approved: He allowed women to travel with Him on His journeys throughout Israel. One of those followers was Mary Magdalene, a woman who evidently was unmarried since she was identified only by where she came from. The name Magdalene, or Magdala, probably refers to modern day Migdal, which historically has been an important agricultural, fishing, and trade center on the western shore of ancient Galilee.
We don't know where Mary and Jesus first met. Perhaps it was when He visited her town near Galilee. She had heard about His miracles and sought deliverance through His healing power.
Mary Magdalene's distinguishing characteristic is that she underwent an exorcism at the command of Jesus. She was possessed by evil spirits, who no doubt terrorized her. There has been much speculation regarding the seven demons Mary is said to have had. The fourteenth-century Italian poet Dante believed Mary Magdalene's demons were not literal; he termed them as seven scars: pride, envy, anger, intemperance, lasciviousness (lust or salaciousness), covetousness, and spiritual sloth.
Actually, Dante might well have underplayed Mary's predicament. Passages in the New Testament that speak about demons should not be interpreted as superstitions of an ancient era; nor are they symbolic references to psychological scars. The record shows that Jesus often encountered alien spirits who had an independent existence and tried to defy Jesus' authority, even speaking to Him at times. In this case, we know that when Mary Magdalene met Jesus, He delivered her from their power.
Those of us interested in the underlying causes of human behavior would like to sit down with Mary and ask about her past. We'd like to know when she became aware of these alien spirits, and how she coped with her suffering. Was she involved in occult practices?
Of course, we don't know the answers to these questions. But we do know something of the common characteristics of those who are haunted by unseen, powerful, evil personalities. Feelings of guilt, fear, self-loathing, and restlessness often are identified by the tormented. We can imagine that Mary was depressed and lost her will to live. There may have been a constant struggle between what she knew was right and the things she was driven to do. Did she have a penchant for antisocial behavior? Undoubtedly, she was embarrassed and ashamed. She liked nothing about herself; she felt cursed and confused.
After Jesus delivered her, we can picture her as being overwhelmed with two realizations. First, she was clean: the inner emotional turbulence had ended, and her tormented soul was at peace. Second, she was given the gift of dignity and value. After years of hopelessness, she found someone who could free her. Someone who saw in her something worth saving, redeeming, and loving. It was Someone whose opinion counted much more than that of all of her peers combined.
Mary's transformation was remarkable. She probably even looked younger; the weight of the world had been lifted from her fragile shoulders. It no longer mattered what others thought of her. She had met a man who had the power to change her life. Now she would devote herself to following and serving Him.
A FOLLOWER OF JESUS
As far as we know, Mary never returned to Magdala again. If she did, it was only for a brief visit. She became part of an inner circle of women, including Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward, and Susanna. Some names were listed in Luke, others were not.
We must remember this when we feel insignificant and when our names are not recorded or honored. Not all faithful people had their names recorded in the Bible, even if they lived during the time of Jesus. Our names might never be in a newspaper or on a speaking roster, but God knows who we are, and we are just as special to Him as Mary was.
We read, "These women were helping to support them out of their own means" (Luke 8:3). They not only ministered to Jesus and His disciples financially, but personally and spiritually as well. The word helping, sometimes translated minister, is actually diaokinos in Greek, from which we get the word deaconess. Paul calls Phoebe a diaokinos in Romans 16:1. These women who helped Jesus were the original deaconesses.
Jesus and His colleagues needed money in order to live; after all, they didn't receive wages for traveling and sharing the Good News. Jesus Himself was not reimbursed for His speeches and miracles. These women supported Him by offering prayers, obtaining and preparing food, and showing their helpfulness through acts of kindness and encouragement. From town to town, village to village, often living in the open fields or caves, these women went along to help. Mary was a member of Jesus' entourage, this group of women who traveled with Him and provided for Him.
The rabbis would never have condoned this. Women were viewed as untrustworthy and seductive; in fact, they were usually blamed for men's lusts and any adulterous relationships that might ensue. So it's probable that the official religious leadership thought it improper to travel with what could be misinterpreted as a harem. But Jesus would not allow men to blame women for their sexual indiscretions and lusts. When He said, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28), Jesus was putting the blame for men's unholy desires squarely upon their own shoulders. They had the responsibility of controlling themselves and, if necessary, gouging out their eyes to keep from sinning (v. 29).
In a blatant countercultural move, Jesus made sure that women were not treated as outcasts or unworthy of ministry. Traveling in a group insured that the entourage maintained proper decorum. And we can be sure that the very presence of Jesus would prevent any impropriety. But He would not shield Himself or His disciples from the presence of women who had a godly zeal to help in ministry.
But second-and this is important-the other rabbis would not have traveled with such an entourage because women were viewed as "weak-minded." One sect of the Pharisees would pray every morning, "God, I thank you that I am not a woman." What is more, a man only had to clap his hands three times to legally divorce his wife for something as trivial as burning the bread. The prevailing attitude was that women were deemed worthy only to bear children and serve the male species.
Jesus thought differently.
The oft-misinterpreted biblical teaching of male headship has frequently caused men to look upon women with feelings of superiority. Whether by the Pharisees during the time of Jesus or the present leadership in some churches, women have often felt restricted in exercising their gifts. However, many have overcome such discouragements and have achieved great things in the name of Christ. Like Mary Magdalene, they have risen above their limitations to play an important role in the spread of the gospel.
Excerpted from Jesus, Lover of a Woman's Soul by Erwin Lutzer Rebecca Lutzer Copyright ©2006 by Erwin and Rebecca Lutzer. Excerpted by permission.
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