A despised prisoner sentenced for life in a cold, dark dungeon can be set free by one thing alone – a decree issued by the king. The shackles, the endless harassment of seven cruel guards, and the locked prison door will yield only to the royal signature. The same phenomenon occurs in the spiritual life. While it is often our own sins and bad choices which drag us into the darkest dungeons, only a Kingly (utterly transcendent) hand can unlock the gates, still the guards, and remove the shackles. What person wouldn’t tearfully grasp the hand of this gracious King, resolving never to let go?
When we read about Mary Magdalene in the Scriptures, we witness a woman who isn’t fooled by Christ’s lowly appearance; she adores Him as her King. She accompanies Jesus throughout His ministry, stands at the foot of the cross with only a few others (John 19:25), and travels to the tomb early on Easter morning hoping to anoint Christ’s body (Mark 16:1). When we consider the unwavering faith of Saint Mary Magdalene, perhaps we should also ponder one of the first things that we learn about her in Luke’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene had seven demons driven out of her by our Lord (Luke 8:2). In other words, she knew darkness, she knew sin, and she knew spiritual bondage. For her, then, Jesus’ royal power was something she’d witnessed personally. Having been brought from utter darkness to radiant light, she needed no more evidence of who Jesus really was.
While the life of this great Saint could be pondered from many different angles, we’ll move forward with one particular detail. That is, her desire to anoint the body of the Lord on multiple occasions. The Scriptures tell us that Mary Magdalene was at the tomb early on Easter morning because she wanted to anoint the Lord’s body with spices and oils. Intellectual giants like St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine, and St. Pope Gregory the Great tell us that Mary Magdalene is the same person as Mary the sister of Martha. This means that Mary Magdalene was also the one who anointed the Lord’s head and feet with expensive ointment and pure nard before His passion and death. John’s Gospel tells us that after anointing Jesus’ feet, Mary “dried them with her hair,” and “the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil” (John 12:3). Why is it that Mary Magdalene was so intent on anointing the Lord’s body both before and after His passion?
We should understand that for the people of Israel, there is a deep-rooted relationship between anointing and kingship. In the Song of Songs, we read, “While the king was upon his couch, my spikenard gave forth its fragrance” (Song 1:12). While this was written centuries before Jesus’ coming, we almost hear the voice of Mary Magdalene uttering this line as she anoints the one true King prior to His passion. We also read in the Old Testament that God chooses the lowly shepherd boy, David, as king of Israel. When Samuel sees David, the Lord says to Samuel, “There – anoint him, for this is the one!” (1 Samuel 16:12). Samuel proceeds to anoint David with oil to signify that David is the next king of Israel. Thus, Mary Magdalene anoints Christ as a declaration that He is truly King. The One who issued the royal decree which drove seven demons away from Magdalene’s battered soul is the One who will reign forever.
Finally, consider that oils and spices have a lasting impact. They permeate the things that they touch, giving off a fragrance that lasts for days or even weeks. Thus, when Mary Magdalene wiped Christ’s anointed feet with her hair, the scent of the ointment would have remained in her hair for several days. The days following the anointing would prove to be a great trial for all Christ’s followers. Mary Magdalene would watch Jesus be handed over, mocked, scourged, and spit upon. She would walk along with Jesus’ mother as the Lord carried His cross towards Mount Calvary. In these moments, Jesus certainly didn’t appear to be a king; in fact, he appeared so smitten and insignificant that most of His closest followers abandoned Him. Yet Mary Magdalene stayed by the Lord’s side to the end. Perhaps Mary Magdalene’s faith was strengthened along the way of the cross by the smell of her own hair; a reminder of the anointing just a few days before. A reminder of the royal decree which sent seven demons running for the hills. A reminder that Jesus will always be the one true King.
Article written by: Curtis Gross, Seminarian in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati