Thanks to the Gospels, we know who Jesus’ disciples were. First and foremost there was Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Vatican II expressly referred to her as the “perfect disciple of Jesus.” Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father is my disciple.”
Mary fulfilled that statement of Jesus perfectly. But after Mary we have Magdalene, a woman some would call an unlikely disciple given the fact that the Gospel tells us “she was possessed by seven demons” (Lk 8:2). That statement does not presume that she was a sinner. That would be unjust to good people, including saints who can be besieged terribly by Satan.
Regardless, there was that moment when she came into Jesus’ presence, though the event is not described in the Gospel. What a moment that must have been! Remember, the number seven in scripture is a symbol for fullness or completeness. We have seven Sacraments, seven Cardinal virtues, etc. Regardless of what possession Satan had over her, when Jesus met her, there was no contest. The demons were cast out and Mary was free. One way to imagine the effect is that the fullness of Satan within her was replaced by the fullness of God’s grace.
Mary became one of the women whom the Gospel describes as followers of Jesus (Mt 8:1ff). We have to remember that this fact alone was a scandalous situation as far as the religious leaders were concerned. First of all, women lacked the status to be called a “disciple.” Only men could be disciples. But Jesus changed that and called them to be his followers. Also, there could have been sexual innuendos pressed forth by the religious leaders. Sometimes, today, you will hear novelists allude to affairs between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. We know there is no evidence for such a circumstance.
There are many words written about Mary Magdalene in the Gospel. Not only did she follow Jesus in his public life, but, as we know, she was with Mary, Jesus’ mother, through the passion, death, and burial of Jesus.
The film The Passion of the Christ presents Magdalene’s presence very powerfully. She is described with Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:25). The apostles were nowhere to be seen. My own image of Mary is that of a strong woman with a love for Jesus—so strong that, if it could have happened, she would have gladly taken Jesus’ place on the cross.
Mary Magdalene is also the first one to see the empty tomb, having gone to care for the dead body of Jesus—surely a gruesome task. She is the first to touch Jesus after the resurrection, and the one chosen by Jesus to announce the good news to the Apostles who were huddled in the upper room.
There is something special about this marvelous woman, and the Gospel reminds us that, from the beginning of Jesus’ life and ministry, women played a most significant role. They have so much to contribute to the Church and to the people of God. They are a force for good that shouldn’t be neglected.