Her many sins have been forgiven her, for she has shown great love. (Luke 7:47)
First of all, let us ask. . . .
Dear friends in Christ Jesus: According to the tradition of sacred scripture, when the world lost its wholeness, “woman” who had been created to help “man” became, in an important way, a stumbling-block for him. She was involved in the loss of his integrity for, through her, man stumbled into sin; she was also involved in his delay to repent for he used her as the motive to counter his own blame. Both were important failures. To right the balance, in the rebuilding of the world, “woman” is also presented to us – first, as a mirror of integrity and second, as a model for repentance. Our mirror of integrity is the glorious Virgin Mary, mother of Christ; our model for repentance is Mary Magdalene, who loved Christ so deeply. It is characteristic of divine wisdom that, since these two dimensions could not be joined in one individual, both enjoyed the same name. Mary Magdalene, then, is shown us as our model for repentance. For this reason, today’s Gospel says, “Her many sins have been forgiven her, because she has shown such great love.”
These words, chosen for her praise and our encouragement, clarify two aspects: (1) the constant state of love, i.e., “since she has loved much,” and (2) the result of such love, i.e., “her many sins are forgiven her.”
Indeed, she seems to have loved Christ more than any of the others. In this love we can consider four facets: (a) the beginnings of love, (b) the manner of love, (c) the marks of love, and (d) the enjoyments of love.
(a) First, I say, we ought to consider the beginnings of love. It seems from scripture that Mary Magdalene began to love Christ deeply in a love that was four-faceted. For a person is moved to do something for various reasons, e.g., to avoid misfortune, to gain profit, to maintain integrity, to find peace.
A person is moved to do something to avoid misfortune when he sees that something is advantageous. Mary Magdalene, then, to avoid the misfortunes of death, began to love:
If you refuse to love, you must remain dead. (1 John 3:14)
Natural life is broken when the unity of body and spirit is broken. Christ is the everlasting life of the spirit; love is the bond by which he is united to our spirit. Whenever that bond is broken, death comes to the spirit. IN order to avoid such a misfortune, she began to love Christ deeply. This certainly she had learned from her teacher. Mary had heard that young man asking the Lord what he should do to possess eternal life. Jesus replied:
Keep the commandments! (Matthew 19:16)
Afterwards he taught about the love of God and of neighbor and then said:
Do this and life is yours! (Luke 10:28)
When she heard this, she began to love ever more deeply.
A person is moved to do something to gain profit. But what is the “profit” of love? Certainly, the eternal kingdom! Therefore, everyone should strive to come to this love. When the spirit loves Christ very deeply, it becomes the bride of Christ and Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings.
Thus it is appropriate that the spirit become queen:
If then. . . you delight in throne and scepter, honor Wisdom, thus to reign forever. (Wisdom 6:22)
Think about all that the Bridegroom wishes his bride to have! He wants her skin to be fresh and glowing, for her to be beautifully gowned, and completely united to him. Well, love cleanses the pores of sin just as blazing fire cleanses grime and rust from iron. Therefore, “her many sins have been forgiven her, for she has shown great love.”
Love covers over many a sin. (1 Peter 4:8)
The spirit should be “beautifully gowned” and love is that beauty of spirit which turns one to God. The spirit, like an angel, must be transformed into whatever it gazes towards – just as a mirror reflects whatever likeness approaches it. Likewise, it is right and fitting that the spirit be completely united to Christ Jesus.
You are wholly beautiful, my love, and without a blemish. (Song 4:7)
The spirit, beautiful in its purity, replies, “That beauty is not mine but yours for you are wholly beautiful and without a blemish.” It is as though the spirit says, “Since the moment I turned towards you and became united to you, necessarily, your beauty and likeness make me beautiful.” Let us all, then, love in this way.
A person is moved to do something to maintain integrity. For this reason, too, Mary Magdalene was moved to love Christ. There is nothing sweeter nor more appropriate than Christ-loving. There is no comparison to his love. He says:
I love those who love me, those who seek me eagerly shall find me. (Proverbs 8:17)
David was chided because he had hatred for those who loved him (cf., 2 Samuel 19:6-8). It is unnatural for a person not to love someone who loves him. Since Christ loved us first, God the Father send his son to redeem us.
Let us say nothing about the goods of nature bestowed upon us and the everlasting joys promised to us and the universe subject to us. Let us just reflect that “he sent his son” – and fully saved us! We shall see that we are bound to love him. Why, then, do you not give him your heart? Certainly, “Oh, Israel, you are acting unjustly,” (cf., Genesis 16:5). See what God wants:
That you love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart. . . and follow his ways. (Deuteronomy 30:6, 16)
A person is moved to do something to find peace. Nothing, however, abounds more in peace and pleasure than to love God. If someone should say, “Look! Here is some honey that is so sweet one drop would sweeten the whole ocean! And once you taste a drop of this honey, everything else will taste bitter!” Well – such honey would, indeed, be very sweet. Yet there is such sweetness in Divine Love and it transforms all bitterness and all everyday problems into sweetness. Likewise, once a person has tasted this sweetness, everything else tastes bitter. As Bernard says, “When one has tasked of the spirit, all flesh becomes tasteless.” Mary Magdalene had tasted this sweetness and wanted to taste nothing else. Indeed she even disregarded the angels and turned away from them in order to go looking for Jesus, (cf., John 20, 12).
Christ foretold of this sweetness:
Approach me, you who desire me, and take your fill of my fruits, for memories of me are sweeter than honey, inheriting me is sweeter than the honeycomb. (Sir 24:26-27)
Wine and music cheer the heart; better than either, the love of wisdom. (Sir 40:20)
This concludes our consideration of the beginnings of love.
(b) Now, let us consider the manner of love. Bernard wishes that “the measure of loving God be without measure.” I believe, however, that a four-termed covenant is required for a person to love rightly, i.e., honestly, uniquely, glowingly, and ceaselessly.
The first – honestly – demands that there be no other attraction, no insincerity; nay, rather that such great love blaze in the heart as one shows in exterior signs:
These who are faithful will live with him in love. (Wisdom 3:9)
One who neglects gain because of a friend, is a just man (Proverbs 12:26)
It should not be a deceiving love which is only an empty embrace.
The second – uniquely – requires that nothing be loved above nor except him; and that no other love be mixed with his. Love is a powerful mistress and if a person should have a heart tenfold larger than he has he would wish to fill himself totally here:
The heart knows its own good best nor can a stranger share its joy. (Proverbs 14:10)
Because of this, Moses said:
Listen, Israel, Yahweh our God is the one Yahweh. You shall love Yahweh, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
The Song of Songs says:
I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mind. (Song 6:2)
As though to say, “I am not going out after the adulterers of the world.”
Third, we ought to love glowingly. This glowing heat is brought to bear on so great a burning desire that the spirit springs forth beyond its limits. Just as a splashing fountain goes out beyond itself, so the spirit, when it loves glowingly, goes beyond itself and wishes to approach what is beyond human strength:
For love is strong as Death, jealousy relentless as Sheol. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of Yahweh himself. (Son 8:6)
Mary Magdalene, because she loved so glowingly, wished to go beyond what strength would allow:
She went to the tomb (John 20:1)
which the men did not dare to do. She offered to carry the body of Jesus herself:
If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him. (John 20:15)
Likewise, we must love ceaselessly – following the example of Christ:
He had always loved those who were his in the world, but now he showed how perfect his love was. (John 13:1)
The reward for love is very great – life eternal. This ought to move us to love greatly:
To win Rachel, therefore, Jacob worked seven years, and they seemed to him like a few days because he loved her so much. (Genesis 29:20)
A friend is a friend for all times. (Proverbs 17:17)
Somewhere else it is said, “He who abandons love before death should not be considered a friend.” Here love is like a fire – but there it will be like a furnace! So much, then, concerning the origin and manner of love.
(c) Now, about the marks of love. True love has four signs: it shakes out inactivity; forces fear aside; shows no embarrassment; and does not harbor memory of suffering. Mary Magdalene was the woman who most perfectly loved Jesus. This love allowed her no idleness as we know from Jesus. This love, allowed her no idleness as we know from the accounts in scripture of her activities during the public ministry of Christ, at the time of his death and afterwards. While Christ was living, she went up with him to Galilee and used her own resources to assist him. She followed him at the time of his death; she also came to the tomb. She embodies the text:
On my bed at night, I sought him whom my heart loves. I sought but did not find him. So I will rise and go through the city; in the streets and the squares, I will seek him whom my heart loves. (Song 3:1-2)
But wretched man sleeps in his bed; he ought to get up with Mary and seek Christ!
Scarcely had I passed them than I found him whom my heart loves. I held him fast, nor would I let him go. (Song 3:4)
She went first to Peter, then to John, first wept, then prayed, then went to the tomb and after a while she encountered Jesus.
Her love forced fear aside. She did not fear harm while she looked for Jesus:
If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him and I will go and remove him. (John 20:15)
Joseph of Arimathaea was a soldier and a friend of Pilate. Nevertheless, without Pilate’s permission, he did not dare to remove the body of Christ. But she did not even ask for darkness: no! openly, in front of everyone, she wished to carry his body and she went to the tomb:
In love there can be no fear, for fear is driven out by perfect love. (1 John 4:18)
But some men are so afraid for their own skins that they do not dare to move towards repentance!
Mary’s love did not embarrass her, the Gospel relates that this mere woman entered among the dinner guests (cf., Luke 7:36-38), poured tears instead of using the usual basin of water, and in acknowledging her sinfulness was not embarrassed amongst those banquet-guests! Some people not only are too embarrassed to repent but are even uncomfortable in being called, “good men.” Certainly they ought to work to be what they appear. That woman, like one possessed, kept running back and forth:
Have you seen him whom my heart loves? (Song 3:3)
And note: these were not just words in her mouth but from her heart.
Love is perfect when a person does not feel its pain. Let us see if she qualified in this aspect. She certainly grieved greatly over Lazarus’s death and remained sitting in her house. When Christ arrived, Martha said to her:
The Master is here and wants to see you. (John 11:28)
And then she did not feel grief over her brother’s death, rather she complained of Christ’s absence:
Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. (John 11:32)
As if to say, “I grieve over your absence.” Paul, after mentioning various tribulations, says:
For your sake we are being massacred daily. These are the trials through which we triumph, by the power of him who loved us. (Romans 8:36)
He is laughed at and does not notice it; he is beaten and does not feel it. If love has such results on Earth – what will it be like in Heaven!
May God bring us to such love!