Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Vindication of Mary of Bethany

A careful comparison of the accounts of Mary and Martha in St. Luke and St. John will reveal the great likelihood that the two accounts are one and the same; in addition, the textual evidence is rather overwhelming that Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha, is none other than Mary Magdalene.

What this means for the account in St. John 12 (and St. Luke 10) is that the dinner, which is taking place after Jesus has raised Lazarus, is a celebration of a restored family. The Magdalene has come home, and is no longer a "sinner" (i.e., public sinner, harlot); she has been shriven, has received absolution. She has been restored to the family. And Lazarus has been brought back from the dead, also restored to the family. This family is renewed by the mercies of Christ. It is most fitting that there be a supper, in celebration.

Meanwhile, Martha is troubled with much serving (St. Luke's account), and complains about her sister. But Jesus gently bids her to become like her sister who "has chosen that good part." Her sister is not only "hearing his word" (a la St. Luke), but anointing his feet (a la St. John). She is fully engrossed in Him who has had such abundant mercy on her. She is the preeminent example for all faith (well is she named Mary, which, I think, is no accident: she is like the Mother of God in this respect).

And this faith is vindicated by Jesus Himself: he says to Martha (a la St. Luke) that Mary has chosen the better part, "which shall not be taken from her," and he says to Judas (a la St. John), "Let her alone." Jesus is her defense and shield. So will he defend, shield, and vindicate all who, like Mary, trust in Him; and he will restore them eternally to the family of the faithful.

15 comments:

Brian P Westgate said...

What's the evidence you speak of, and why do you put all that stuff together like you do? Wouldn't that mean St. Luke includes that dinner twice? Interesting take indeed.

Father Eckardt said...

The other account of which you speak is St. Luke 7, where the woman "who is a sinner" anoints Jesus as he sits to eat at Simon the Pharisee's house. That would not be the same as the event of St. Luke 10, since the latter is at the home of Mary and Martha, as is the case of St. John 12.

There is also St. John 8, where the woman caught in adultery is brought before Jesus.

It's been awhile since I looked at all these, together with the references to Mary Magdalene, but I believe it is fairly easy to demonstrate from the textual evidence that Mary Magdalene is in fact the woman caught in adultery, and that this is in fact Mary of Bethany. The Gospel for St. Mary Magdalene's Day is, as I recall, of the shriven woman; while not mentioning Mary by name, this tradition agrees that she is the same.

I don't have all this in front of me right now, but I suggest you go examine it for yourself, and you'll see what I'm saying.

Brian P Westgate said...

Whoops, I thought for some reason that St. Luke included an anointing at the beginning of his account of the Passion. Wrong of course.

Father Eckardt said...

Interesting comment indeed . . .

Brian P Westgate said...

Since I'm otherwise speechless . . . Ron Paul for President!

Yes, I'm on board with the Magdalen connection. I guess the big question is this. Her nickname is Magdalene, that is, of Magdala, which is on the Sea of Galilee. Yet Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are from Bethany. I suppose we can always say she ran away from home, and Jesus found her near Magdala.

Father Eckardt said...

Hey, I like that: the prodigal returns home.

I did some surfing just now, and found a superb defense in the Catholic Encyclopedia online
(www.newadvent.org/cathen/09761a.htm), which in particular has this remarkable comment:

"It is the identification of Mary of Bethany with the 'sinner' of Luke 7:37, which is most combatted by Protestants. It almost seems as if this reluctance to identify the 'sinner' with the sister of Martha were due to a failure to grasp the full significance of the forgiveness of sin."

Luke said...

Pr. Eckardt:

Interesting that the New Advent article mentions that the Greek Fathers make a distinction between all three women: Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the Anointer. Makes me wonder: Perhaps three individual women, the (more?) ancient tradition, is correct.

The other issue that comes up is trying to place the Johannine record in the Lukan timeline. And that is where I think the Eastern tradition seems more likely.

True enough, the Western Gospel for St. Mary Magdalene's Day recounts the shriven woman. But this could simply be the continuation of the incorrect tradition on the matter.

The division of the Church (even before Protestantism) seems to be a factor that makes me reluctant to adopt the conclusion that your post does. Of course, that could be said of those who take the opposite position.

Pr. Luke Zimmerman
(LTZ)

Father Eckardt said...

Yes, I noticed that bit on the Greek Fathers, but inasmuch as I have never seen a reasonable explanation for it, I'm not sold on it.

The Greeks also declare such things as a distinction between St. John the Divine and St. John the Evangelist, which I find unconvincing as well.

Susan said...

Hey, Fritz, I remember talking to Steve about this once or twice. He agreed Mary of Bethany was, for a while, Mary of Magdala. He was wondering if the story in Luke 7 was the same story. He suggested that Simon was the given name of Mary & Martha's brother, but he went by Lazarus (doesn't it mean "God is my help"?) like others' names were changed: Solomon/Jedediah or Saul/Paul.

If Lazarus is Simon the Pharisee, then I'm confused about timelines, but it would sure explain what was going on with the Jews being there to mourn Lazarus's death, and the uproar when Jesus brought him back to life.

Father Eckardt said...

Interesting. I'm not sure, though, how you get "God is my help" from "Lazarus."

But I'm just a simple parish pastor . . .

Susan said...

Okay, so maybe I'm remembering wrong. What does "Lazarus" mean?

Father Eckardt said...

I don't know, but I can't get "God is my help" out of it.

This would no doubt be the same Lazarus who was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom, whom the rich man in hell knew as Lazarus; he was in fact sent back from the dead, and sure enough, it did nothing to convince the man's five brethren . . .

Rev. Richard A. Heinz said...

Father:

I have heard that "Lazarus" is a Greek derivative of "Eleazar," -- "God is my help."

Father Eckardt said...

Ok, that I can accept. Makes sense. Thanks . . .

Eric said...

I think that they are distintly two women, Mary of Bethany the sister of Lazarous and Mary Magdeline. The scriptures would seem to indicate that they are in 2 different homes:
Luke 7:36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table.

Simon the Pharisee and the second at the home of Simon the Leper

Mark 14:3 "..reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper"

I would have trouble believing that simon the pharisee turning into simon the leper, and per someones argument above that simon was actually Lazarous.. Doesn't seem plausible.