I am currently working on my sermon series for after Easter when we will look at some of the women in the Bible as well as tackle some of the tricky issues of the role of women in the church. Since this will begin the first Sunday after Easter I thought I would start with Mary Magdalene since she was one of the women who went to the tomb.
But, this does not come without it's own difficulties. It would be nearly impossible today to talk about Mary and not address what many people think of her as a result of the pseudo-history/theology of Dan Brown. In case you have been living in a cave, Dan Brown's thesis in the Da Vinci Code was that Mary was not just a follower of Jesus, but that she was his best disciple, "the beloved disciple," and was married to him and had children with him.
But as I have been thinking about this I wonder why no one is raising the very disturbing issue that comes with this idea, namely that in order for Mary to be important in the scriptures, or for the church, or for Jesus, that it must be because of her sexuality and her role in bearing children. That is, she could not have been "the beloved disciple" or been important without also having been Jesus' lover. She could only be "beloved" if she knew Jesus "biblically."
Clearly there were women who were important to Jesus' ministry, who were followers, and the same is true in early Pauline communities. The church has tried to downplay these women at many times, including changing their names to male names in order to obscure their gender. But do we do them any service in trying to reclaim their status and place in the movement by elevating them simply because of a sexual role they could have played? Could Mary be important to Jesus without having to engage in sex with him? Why does her genitalia have anything to do with whether she could be a disciple or not?
How do we reclaim and proclaim the role of women in the church then and now, as well as women in the Bible, without simply talking about the "role" they serve in sexual liaisons with men and with the continuation of the species? How do we elevate these women as children of God who carry out God's will in the world regardless of gender or sexuality?
Obviously as we have seen in the past few weeks the church is still struggling mightily with this. I think that Dan Brown, and those he was parroting, think they are trying to "liberate" Mary from the church, but have in fact simply shackled her to other preconceived notions of women and their "appropriate" roles.
Sometimes it's amazing to see how far we have come and yet to be dismayed at how far we still have to go. As the father of two young daughters I have great hope for their future, but, at the same time, great doubts about their future as well.