Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
A famous painting by the French master Georges de La Tour hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It shows a loosely-clad woman sitting in front of a looking glass in meditative stupor. She is fingering a skull, which sits in front of, and almost blocks from view, a burning candle. “What’s the point of it all?” she seems to ask herself as she contemplates life and death, herself and Christ, the light.
The painting is called “The Repentant Magdalene” which is probably a misnomer. That title reflects a popular but unfounded belief that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute. Preachers through the ages have concluded that Mary Magdalene, mentioned for the first time in Luke’s gospel today, is “the sinful woman” who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears of yesterday’s gospel passage. But today’s gospel only identifies her as the woman “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Demon possession in the New Testament is associated with sickness and hysteria, not moral depravity. Mary Magdalene’s relation to the woman of the previous chapter is likely one of inclusion. The evangelist Luke includes the story of the women accompanying Jesus following that of “the sinful woman” to indicate how Jesus attracted different kinds of women as well as men to himself.
But certainly the questions that La Tour’s Magdalene seems to ask are likewise inclusive of all humanity as well. What’s the point of it all? Is our destiny just dry bones that will whither completely in time? Or is Jesus the fire who enlightens our minds today and will empower our resurrection from the dead tomorrow? We Christians know the answers to these questions. Our task is to live their implications in our everyday lives.