Mary Magdalene: A Commiserate Plodder 10/10/99

Luke 8:1-3

JESUS CHRIST was asked how often a person should be forgiven. In making the inquiry Peter was revealing he was fed up and ready to explode. “Seventy times seven” was not the answer the Big Fisherman expected or wanted. Perseverance was not a strong point for Simon. In answering this question Jesus stresses a principle expedient in the total Christian experience. It is persistence. Plodding is a secular synonym for it. Keeping on keeping on doing the right thing typifies plodding.

Plodders know the four steps to accomplishment to be:

Plan purposefully, prepare prayerfully, proceed positively, and pursue persistently. Hang them on the wall of your mind and refer to them each time your thoughts pass by.

Plodders are people who wanting to do something find a way no matter how difficult while others find excuses. They are willing to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable to achieve their goal. Samuel Johnson, the British author, proved he was a plodder by being one of the first to compile an English language dictionary. Johnson said, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.”

Inspirational plodders can be found in such diverse venues as athletics and academics.

Nolan Ryan is the prototype of a plodder. He is known as one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all times. His emergence marks the path of a plodder.

Most second-graders are asleep at 1:00 AM. Not little Nolan. He was up helping his dad deliver “The Houston” on his 55 mile route. Trying to help the family in their financial crunch he would work until 4:30 AM and get a couple of hours of sleep before school. In the process he was developing the work ethic that would identify him all of his life. Throwing newspapers was a prelude to throwing something of more significance, a baseball.

He once told a reporter, “The type person I am, I deal with today and prepare for tomorrow.”

After a brilliant high school career Nolan joined the Mets late in 1966. His troubles intensified. An elbow injury sidelined him right away and kept him out most of the 1967 season. When he returned he had control problems the next four years. He refused to give up and resolved to improve. He worked hard and studied his fellow pitching great Tom Seaver who advised him to go out and do the job.

In 1971 he was traded to the second rate California Angels. He resolved to make the best of it by working hard and studying the best of the best. His coaches told him he needed to focus and focus he did. Like a telephoto zoom lense.

One of his coaches, Jimmie Reese, would hit line drives to him after practice to help improve his speed and agility. In practice he would concentrate on one spot and throw there over and over until he was certain that is where the ball would go.

In 1979 he became the first million dollar baseball player when traded to the Houston Astros. He knew that to compete against bigger and stronger players he would have to work harder. Day after day he put in two hours more workout time than the others. The work ethic he learned as a second- grader was paying off. The late Gene Autry, former owner of the Angels, said of Ryan, “It’s easy for people to always talk about Nolan Ryan the pitcher. But for me, I’m probably more impressed by Nolan Ryan, the person.”

It was Nolan Ryan’s plodding that enable him to enjoy a 27 year major league career. He pitched more no-hitters, recorded more strikeouts and played more seasons than any player. He holds or shares 50 other major league records. He was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot with the second highest vote total of all times. He belongs in the “Plodder’s Hall of Fame.”

Inspirational plodders are found in every field of endeavor. “The Sunday Lady of Possum Trot” is a sterling example.

Little Martha sat in her log house playhouse one Sunday afternoon enjoying the beauty of the season when she heard voices of young children at play.

In a soft cultured voice Martha asked, “Do you go to Sunday School?”
In chorus they answered, “No’m.”
“Do you go to regular school?”
“No’m,” they shyly replied.
There was no school in the Georgia uplands for poor children.
“Would you like to hear some stories like children listen to in Sunday School?”
Eagerly they gathered around and listened intently.

The next week they returned bringing their little sisters. The third week they came again bringing their parents. The following week neighbors joined in. The adults listened as intently as the children sang their songs with childish enthusiasm.

She realized that if they could learn the Bible they could do well in school. With parental consent she started teaching them during the week. The numbers grew and Martha’s dad gave her land and built a school house across the road from the plantation. Dormitories became a necessity and were soon built to house the farm boys that were now coming from some distance.

As part of their learning Martha resolved to instill in them a good work ethic. This wasn’t all together easy for these boys thought there was work beneath their somewhat primitive dignity.

One of her first young boarders who was told to wash his clothes told Martha “Ah reckon washin’ clothes is a woman’s work.” Knowing arguing with the boy would do no good Martha washed them her self. Embarrassed by this the boy gently pushed her aside saying, “I ‘low as how I can wash my own overalls.” The other boys decided to follow their leader and each washed his own.

Martha moved into the dorm. At night she would sing with the homesick youth and provided them special biscuits and honey as a treat.

It occurred to her that if she educated the boys and not the girls who would they marry as a peer. This required new girl’s dorms.

Martha invested her own fortune in the school but its growth exceeded her capacity. She chanced to write Henry Ford and tell him of her experiment. His courteous response contained a gift of one dollar. Martha bought seed with it and planted a crop. In the fall she harvested and sold it of a substantial profit. She wrote Ford again thanking him and telling him of her industrious use of the dollar. She included a warm invitation to visit if he were in her part of the country.

Henry Ford was impressed and knowing he was coming through that area consented to visit. He was so impressed that he invested generously and encouraged his friends such as Andrew Carnegie to do the same.

Today you can visit her school, the largest and one of the most beautiful campuses in America near Rome, Georgia, Berry College. There on the crest of the highest mountain is the “House of Dreams,” a retreat built for her by her students. They said she gave of herself too much and wanted to provide for her a personal retreat. She never used it, desiring instead to teach by her example the merits of plodding. In doing so she gave America one of its most beautiful and productive schools.

There is a Biblical character with a distinctly different background who provides an admirable profile of a plodder. Her name was Mary and she was from the sea side village of Magdela on the Sea of Galilee.

Magdela means “the tower” and the ruins of the tower and city walls still mark the location of her home town along the shore of the sea. Dye works and textile factories made it a prosperous town. The towns reputation and the location of the introduction of Mary in the New Testament have given her an undeserved reputation. She is a victim of guilt by association and assumption.

The first reference to her in the New Testament follows the account of the anonymous sinful woman caught in the act of adultery. Coupled with the fact she was from a town known for its reputation of women of ill repute there is no Biblical reference to her being such a person. None of the Christian Fathers who wrote in the early centuries attributed such character to her. The church in Naples, Italy established a house for fallen women in 1324 called the “Magdalen House.” Thus, Mary has been given a bad and undeserved rap.

Her identity as a plodder is well established.

She is introduced to us by Dr. Luke as having been possessed by seven demons. Seven is the number for perfection and may have indicated she had many demons when Christ delivered her from their powerful control.

Have you ever wondered how Jesus managed to wander around like a nomad without any visible means of support? In addition to the wealth of certain apostles there were certain wealthy women who were His disciples. Three are distinctly identified: Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Susanna, Mary Magdalene, and “many others who provided for Him from their substance” (Luke 8: 3).

She is thus identified with women of substance. Perhaps it was inherited wealth or from the industry of Magdela. Wealth is both a blessing and a burden. Those who have it have the responsibility for managing it. Mary chose wisely how to use her wealth. She used it in support of Christ. God has placed in the hands of persons the wealth to bless many. Discretionary distribution of it could further the cause of Christ.

Eight of the fourteen times Mary is mentioned in Scripture it is in connection with other women. She always heads the list indicating her position of leadership.

When Jesus freed her from the demons He also set free her spirit of sacrifice, courage, and perseverance. She became an all-star plodder. She lived down the stigma of being demonic and lived up to the standard of a free child of God. To become all she could be she had to be an overcomer. Most plodders do.

God hasn’t promised smooth roads that are wide,
A swift easy journey needing no guide.
God hasn’t promised skies that are always blue,
Nor flower strewn pathways all life through.
God has not promised that we shall not bear
Many a heart ache, many a care.
But God has promised,
Rest for the weary, help from above
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.

Mary is a living example of the reassuring example that “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

When Jesus saw her He looked upon her and He did not merely see demons He saw a potential angel of mercy who could be a blessing to Him and others. He always looks upon the best potential of each of us. In His wonderful plan for our lives His design is best to be sought. Her life-long devotion and delight in doing for Him was an outgrowth of gratitude for His deliverance. As she had experienced suffering because of demonism now she found joy in deliverance. There is no possibility of repaying our Lord for all He does for us but it is appropriate to express gratitude through obedient plodding after Him.

Like the other women with her Mary provided from her substance for the support of Christ’s earthly mission. This virtually stealth group of women traveled with Christ just as did the twelve apostles. It was they who provided the nomadic provisions necessary for His itinerant ministry.

Not all who are healed or helped are grateful. Christ healed ten lepers but only one turned back to say thanks. Ingratitude is more often found than endearment. Persons who respond joyously and graciously find almost as much delight in doing so as in their deliverance.

The most difficult grace is the grace of receiving. One of the most delightful ones is the grace of giving by showing gratitude. She who was held by seven demons held back no acknowledgment of thanksgiving. She first gave herself to the Lord and found no boundary for her giving of her substance.

Plodders don’t equivocate or vacillate even when others forsake. Mary and the other women were with our Lord when He made that last journey from Galilee to the city of His death, Jerusalem. Together they had to minister to our Lord as long as possible. However, now in Jerusalem His detractors dominated.

Mary was there to hear Pontius Pilate’s pronouncement of the death sentence even after acquitting Him. She was a witness to the inhumanity of the blood thirsty crowd. The sound of the hammer on nails reverberated in her as the cries of derision resonated in her ears. Plodders offer comfort just by their presence. Thereby they show their perseverance.

Dr. Luke tells us “All His acquaintances and the women who followed Him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (Luke 23: 49).

What words cannot capture artists have commendably attempted to portray.

I stood transfixed in the Louvre before a painting of desolation and love. It portrays a dramatic moment during the crucifixion. The sky has grown dark but in the darkness can be seen a kneeling form. It is Mary Magdalene holding the blood streaked feet of Christ with her lips pressed against them. Plodders are devotees.

Dr. Luke tells us of an aspect of the burial the artist Rubens attempts to capture in his painting entitled “The Descent of the Cross.” Nicodemus and Joseph having received the battered body of Christ have come to entomb the lifeless form. “The women who had come with Him from Galilee followed after, and they observed the tomb and how His body was laid” (Luke 23: 55).

The end!

The front end of glory. Life went into an eclipse for Mary and Christ’s loyalists.

Then came Sunday morning. Defeated, disillusioned, and disparing women came to the tomb. Life was hopeless and there was no hope of life. They brought spices for the final processing of the body. They mused who would roll away the stone.

Then all heaven broke loose. “He is risen” was the angelic announcement. Set free from the bonds of death and the limitations of human life Christ was turned loose on the world.

After Peter and John were summonsed to the tomb and had left Mary lingered at the tomb only to have her reverie disturbed by two angels who asked, “Woman why are you weeping?” with a fearful voice she said, “Because they have taken away my Lord.”

As she was about to leave she sensed a presence. Assured Christ was dead and assuming the figure to be the gardener Mary asked where they had laid the body of Christ. “Tell me where you have laid Him and I will take Him away.”

She never considered her weakness only her opportunity.

Then by an unmistakable voice her name was called, “Mary.”

The inflection, the intonation, the resonance, that voice was the same one that commanded the demons to leave her. All the glory of heaven was in that voice. With elation she replied, “Rabboni!” This was the strongest expression of respectful, rather reverential, love. Rabboni means “my great master,” and He was.

To whom little is forgiven, the same loves little. Mary loved very much because she knew she was forgiven much. If we were to inventory His grace applied in our lives we each would love Him more dearly.

Plodders know who to follow and in what direction.

As a reward for her sacrifice, courage, and perseverance Christ appointed her the first herald of His resurrection.

As the first to have seen the resurrected Lord she must have been the fastest to have shared it. Having personally been set free from seven demons she, of all people, believed Him to have been set free from human kinds most dreaded detractor, death.

What such liberation means is illustrated by John Bunyan in his “Grace Abounding.”

“I find to this day these seven abominations in my heart. Pride, envy, anger, intemperance, lasciviousness, covetousness, spiritual sloth — these were Dante’s seven scars on his sanctified head ….It is better to enter into Heaven with seven devils excavated out of our hearts as with a knife, than to have them gnawing in our hearts to all Eternity.”

There are scars in heaven, but not on Dante, Bunyan, or Mary Magdalene. The scars on Christ obtained at Calvary purged, healed, and made perfect all saints.