Remember the story of Judith? She was a prominent women in Israel during the days when Babylon was threatening to invade Jerusalem. Not a single man among the Jewish leaders was willing to take action to protect God’s people; they shrunk back in fear at the thought of standing up to Babylon’s mighty army. Empowered by God and responding to his call in prayer, Judith rose up and maneuvered her way into the Babylonian ranks. Single-handedly she defeated their army. An unlikely warrior, Judith was chosen by God because he could not find a man courageous enough to be his instrument.
Today we read about a female “apostle.” She took action when the appointed leaders were holed up in a room with the door locked, because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. We are told that (John 20:11-18):
“Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels sitting there….And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.’”
We know, of course, that the evangelists give us just bits and pieces of the whole story. It seems as though Mary Magdalene was alone in the tomb area. From what we read later, there were none of the chosen Twelve with her. She alone “risked being arrested because of her association with the “condemned man.” Her love for Jesus was stronger than her human fears. Then she met Jesus.
“…she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her… ‘Whom are you looking for?’ She thought it was the gardener and said to him, ‘Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him…Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni,’ which means Teacher.”
Her reward for her courage was a personal, face-to-face, encounter with the risen Lord. The least likely person to be first to touch the resurrected body of Jesus was this woman from Magdala, whom we are told was once demon-possessed. Then, at that moment, Jesus commissioned her to be an apostle.
“…go to my brothers and tell them I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”
She was the “apostle to the Apostles!” We are told that the word “apostle” means the one who is sent. Mary Magdala was the one who was sent to proclaim the gospel to “brothers” of Jesus. Only later did Jesus appear to them himself. A brave woman was, in reality, the first apostle of the Church. She was a “Judith” who seemed to be the only person available for God to use at that moment.
The story concludes with the words,
“Mary went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and then reported what he had told her.”
Other evangelists indicate that these men refused to believe the words of this female “apostle.” Nevertheless she was the chosen person that God used to get his foot in the door to announce the greatest news that was ever delivered on this planet.
We ask, why didn’t God use a man for this job? The answer is simple: none were available. None were willing to risk their lives and take action by accompanying Mary to the tomb. In time, of course, the other apostles caught up with their sister.
So many of us sit back with the Twelve waiting for one of them to make a move. We, like the disciples of old, are afraid to step out in faith and be used by God to speak his Word in critical times. It was only because of Mary Magdalene’s great love for Jesus that she ventured to the tomb that Easter morning, and let God use her to get the ball rolling.
In every age of the Church, God uses the least likely to do his work. He doesn’t check out qualifications, but chooses those who are available to him. He will use a woman in many cases to do what is regarded as a “man’s job.” God is raising up a band of “apostles” in our age—those who love Jesus enough to lay down their lives for him.
“Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day” (Acts 2:41).