This coming Friday, July 22, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles. Whilst her name “Magdalene” quite likely refers (at least in part) to the place she came from (Magdala means “the tower”), some scholars believe that it is actually a nickname Jesus gave her.
If true, this has two implications. One, that Mary was Jesus’ close friend, close enough for him to give her an Aramaic term of endearment, as he did with several other apostles (eg: Simon “the rock”; James and John the “sons of noise,” and Simon “the zealous one.”) Two, that her name may have had a deeper meaning, beyond a reference to where she came from. If the nicknames Jesus gave his friends referenced character traits, then what might Mary being called “the tower-ess” mean?
It might mean nothing other than by being independent, she was distinguished from the other Marys by her place of origin rather than her relationship to a man. But, I also think that Jesus knew the role she would have in birthing the Church, as the first witness to the resurrection.
If Peter is the rock on which the Church was built, then perhaps Magdalene is the tower – a vision of hope. Isn’t it rather lovely to imagine that Jesus entrusted the Church to be founded not on one person but on two very different people with very different gifts and skills? In fact, all the apostles and many more unnamed folks played an important role in the early church, especially in the midst of great persecution and difficulty. What might that tell us about who we are called to be, as a diverse and varied as we are as a church today?
Above all else, Mary Magdalene was someone who loved Jesus as a friend and a teacher, and we honour her role as an apostle over 2000 years later. May each one of us be inspired by her faithfulness and love, and — like her — be ever willing to answer the call of Jesus, our friend and teacher.