2 April 2013

John 20:11-18

“Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’” (v. 18)


The account of the Resurrection morning in John's Gospel is the most detailed. It comes in two parts, held together by the person of Mary Magdalene: she discovered that the tomb was empty and immediately went to let the disciples know (verses 1-10) and she met with the risen Lord and, again, informed the disciples (vv.11-18).

Mary Magdalene features prominently in the Gospels: Luke observes that she was among the women who followed Jesus and his disciples, ministering to them from their own resources (Luke 8:2-3). Mark (15:40), Matthew (27:56) and John (19:25) number her among the women who stood at the foot of the Cross. Matthew (27:61) and Mark (15:47) name her, with another Mary, at Jesus' burial. All the Gospels record her at the tomb early in the morning; Mark (16:1), Matthew (28:1) and Luke (24:10) name her first among the group of women present, while John alone tells of her encounter with Jesus (20:14-17). Strangely, after the Gospel record, there is no further mention of Mary Magdalene either in Acts or in the other writings of the New Testament.

A considerable mythology has accumulated around Mary Magdalene, due to no small extent to a sermon of Pope Gregory the Great who deduced that she was a prostitute. Paintings down the centuries have reinforced this perception of her as a woman of loose morals, often showing her in tears of repentance, with uncovered hair (the mark of a prostitute) and in less than modest attire. The Gospels, however, make it clear that she was the first witness to the resurrection and 'an apostle to the apostles'. Clearly a person of standing among the followers of the Lord, Mary is commissioned to announce the resurrection to the small community of followers; there is no indication in John's Gospel that she was not believed (as opposed to the reaction in Luke's Gospel (Luke 24:11)!  

To Ponder

  • Think about a time when your preconceived notions about someone may have deafened you to the significance of what they were saying. How do you see it now?
  • Consider other women called to spread the good news about Jesus. Some are in the Bible narrative, like the woman at the well in Samaria (John 4), but others may be people known to you, like a grandmother or a Sunday School teacher. What do you think has made them speak up for Jesus? Do you share their courage? 

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.