Despite speculation, we know nothing of Mary’s parentage, marital status, age, or physical appearance. When Jesus exorcizes seven demons from her, there is no hint she is a prostitute (Mk. 16:9). A thorough Scriptural search reveals no moral scar in her background. She is usually found in the company of other holy women who follow Jesus and minister to His needs. Whenever these women are listed, Mary’s name is at the top (Mk. 15:40-41).
She is a prominent figure at the Crucifixion and listens with a broken heart to His cries from the cross (Mt. 27:55-56). She hears Him ask the Father to forgive His murderers. She sees the soldier thrust the spear into His side. She is present when Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus lay His body to rest (Jn. 19:38-40). Mark records Mary “beheld” (theoreo) what happens at His burial. Theoreo is a term that suggests she carefully observes the proceedings (Mk. 15:47).
Mary comes to the tomb early on Easter Sunday with spices to anoint His body (Lk. 24:1). She arrives expecting an inanimate corpse. Having seen the burial stone rolled in place, she wonders who will help her move it in order to gain access (Mk. 16:3). The Roman soldiers have gone, the other disciples are hiding in fear, and Mary is there alone (Jn. 20:19). Discovering the stone has been displaced, she runs to inform the disciples of the missing corpse. Peter and John return with her to the tomb and soon depart. Mary stays to grieve. Two angels are present and ask her about the source of her grief. Jesus then appears in human form but Mary mistakes him for the groundskeeper (20:15). The first word spoken by the risen Christ is “Woman” (gyne) a respectful term of endearment. He asks her why she is weeping and who she is looking for. She only hopes this man can locate the missing body for she is willing to transport it to a safe haven (Jn. 20:15).
Her resolute dedication is rewarded with a unique honor. She is the first person to see the risen Christ (Mk. 16:9). Jesus addresses her by her Aramaic name Miriam. She then recognizes Jesus and calls Him Rabboni, which means “my great Master.”
Mary immediately rises from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. One can only imagine the emotions of a grieving disciple who suddenly discovers her Lord is alive. Jesus gives her an immediate task: she is to inform the others about His resurrection and impending ascension (Jn. 20:17). No longer needing her burial spices, she runs to obey Jesus’ command. A doubting man named Thomas will soon demand proof the Lord has risen, but Mary requires none. Unlike her male counterparts, her courage never fails her. In keeping with Jesus’ pattern of ministry to women, He gently lifts Mary to a higher plane of spiritual awareness and strength.
“Not she, like Judas, with deceptive kiss her Savior stung;
Nor, like Peter, did she deny Him with nervous tongue;
But Mary, while apostles hid, did dangers brave,
Present at His cross – and first to tend His grave.”
– Eaton S. Barrett