I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, thanks to my work as a fiction reviewer, but Vindicating the Vixens has captured my attention and fancy. This collection of essays about women in the Bible who have historically been “bad girls” delivers a host of fascinating conclusions not typically found in the books. And Mary Magdalene has to be the most notorious of the historically falsely-accused women. In her chapter, Karla Zazueta offers us reasons to see her differently—drastically unlike the popular understanding still found in novels and sermons. Here, Karla gives us a taste of what she wrote, and why.
Tell us a little about Mary Magdalene that contradicts popular ideas.
Most people still believe that Mary Magdalene was a penitent prostitute, even though the Catholic Church exonerated Mary Magdalene of her erroneous bad-girl reputation in the 1960’s. The 2016 movie “Risen,” for example, depicted her as a reformed harlot in that many soldiers “knew” her. Then there are the wilder notions of her life, such as those from Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, that she was Jesus’s wife and lover.
Mary Magdalene, however, was none of the above. Of the thirteen times the New Testament mentions Mary Magdalene, we learn she was not a former prostitute, but a loyal disciple of Jesus, a patron of finances (she helped fill the bank account, so speak, of Jesus and the Twelve), a necessary informant (she gave key eyewitness testimony of Jesus’s life, ministry, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection), and one of my favorite facts about her—she was one of the first female seminarians. She, along with other women and the Twelve, traveled with and learned firsthand from Jesus (Luke 8:2).
What did you learn about Mary Magdalene’s story that surprised you?
As I dove into the research for Mary Magdalene, I was surprised at the extensive and exhaustive list of books (i.e. works of fiction) about her life. I had no idea the vast quantities of crazy stories people had invented about her! At one point I finally decided I had to stop researching all the inaccurate literature, as it was a deep and dark rabbit hole that seemed to have no end.
Mary Magdalene’s life was intriguing, for sure. It was just not a seductive and sensuous life, as Hollywood would have you believe. The Savior singled her (a woman!) out from all the other disciples to be the first to see him alive—walking, talking, breathing, and resurrected from the dead—just as had been prophesied. She was, as Thomas Aquinas called her, an “apostle to the apostles” in that she got to be the first person to proclaim the news of his resurrection. She was highly valued and given special honor.
Why does this new or more accurate understanding of Mary matter to readers today?
I remember a conversation I had with a church youth group leader when I was a teenager. When he asked me what my plans were after high school I explained, “I want to study at a university so that I can become an architect.” His reply was, “Don’t you think you should go to a Christian college so that you can meet a nice Christian man [to marry]?” That conversation occurred nearly 30 years ago, and I would like to say that times have changed. But Western middle-class Christian circles have long assumed, and many still assume, that working inside the home is the biblical role for women.
But this woman from the 1st Century, Mary Magdalene, provided financially for the ministry of Jesus and the Twelve. She was either an entrepreneur or she provided for them out of a dowry or inheritance, the New Testament does not say. Jesus could have used many other means to support his ministry, but he chose women. On page 265 of Vixens I provide a quote from editor Dr. Sandra Glahn that explains the significance of Mary Magdalene’s financial provisions. Glahn states, “Our Lord’s practice of receiving the financial support of women suggests that doing so does not undermine manhood. And conversely, apparently a women’s femininity is not violated if she financially supports a man or men.”
Why should the average believer consider picking up a copy of Vixens?
We lead very busy lives, and in order to try and maintain our spiritual lives amidst the normal everyday chaos, we either read Scripture too quickly (to check it off the list) or we focus on daily devotionals. Reading plans and daily devotionals are great things, I utilize both, but there is beauty in the details and Vixens helps break down those details for the average believer.
One of my favorite lines is from Luke 8:2, “And also some women…” In context, “The Twelve were with [Jesus], and also some women…” (vv. 1b–2). Let that line and its significance sink in for a moment. Jesus permitted women to be in his traveling group of disciples, going about from town to town, as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God.
Instead of the word, “women,” insert your name. “And also Kelley…” “And also Karla…” Do you see it? Do you feel it? Jesus highly valued women. He chose them—in a time when they were considered less than second-class citizens—to be in his roaming classroom.
In a time when Millennials are looking for female role models, and when all people, regardless of age or gender, are desperately wanting to be reassured of their inherent value in God’s calling on their lives, I think Mary Magdalene’s story helps bridge the gap. God saw her. He saw Mary Magdalene and utilized her to spread the gospel. And he sees you. And he wants to utilize you for his kingdom purposes as well. You are highly valued.
An architect turned vocational discipleship leader, Karla D. Zazueta (MACL) holds a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary and serves alongside her pastor-husband at Stonebriar Community Church (Spanish Ministries) in Frisco, Texas. She is the author of Discipleship for Hispanic Introverts: Providing a Cross-Cultural Context for Life Change. She is also a regular blogger at bible.org.
Featured image used with permission.