Monday, March 24, 2008

The Marys and the Myrrh

Every day this week is Easter, and liturgically equal to Sunday. Every day this week we will hear a different part of the Easter Gospel. Today's Gospel (from Matthew) mentions two "myrrh-bearing women," both of them named Mary, who went to the tomb that morning and met the risen Lord on their way back. John's Gospel tells us of three women named Mary who were beneath the cross of Jesus when he died: his own mother, Mary Magdalen, and "his mother's sister Mary the wife of Clopas." Clearly, his mother is not among the myrrh-bearing women, something that the Fathers of the Church say testifies to the Virgin Mary's faith in the resurrection even before it came about. So who is the third of the myrrh-bearers?
Mark says that the three women were Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Salome (that's "Mrs. Zebedee," the mother of James and John). But Luke says they were "Mary Magdalen, Joanna [whom we learned about in Luke 8 as one of the "financial sponsors" of the evangelical enterprise] and Mary the mother of James."
So far, it looks as though Mary #2 was "the mother of James" and probably "the wife of Clopas." (Would that make Clopas and his son James the "two disciples" who left Jerusalem and met Jesus on the road to Emmaus that same Easter day?)
How many women were there at the tomb that Easter morning? It is Luke who sets the record straight: we don't know. He named three, but mentioned "the others who accompanied them" who also testified to the apostles about what they had seen and heard at the empty tomb.

On a side note, I was struck in today's Gospel at the message Jesus gave the women: "Go to my brothers and tell them...." This matches what we find in the Gospel of John: "Go to my brothers and tell them...." It is unusual enough for John's account to match any of the synoptics, which should really cause us to pay attention to this similarity. This "brother" language is unique to the Resurrection story in the Gospels; we'll only find it again in the letter to the Hebrews, where it is used in the context of the Incarnation. Only after the Passion, Death and Resurrection does Jesus say that his disciples have become his "brothers," true sons of the same Father. Only after the Resurrection will John affirm "our relationship to the world is just like his."

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