Tuesday, May 30, 2006

preaching the Da Vinci Code: 2 something about Mary

Here is my 2nd sermon on Da Vinci – titled There’s Something about Mary. (My first one – Facts and fictions? is here.)

Sometimes people are right for all the wrong reasons.

A few years ago I was playing Pictionary. Playing against Lynne and Jan. Never play Pictionary against Lynne and Jan. They’re sisters. They are almost telepathetic.

The Pictionary clue was “Rome.” Lynne gets her cities wrong. She starts drawing the Arc de Triomphe.

Jan looks at it and yells Rome. At this point I give up. How on earth can you play against 2 sisters who are right, for all the wrong reasons?

Dan Brown is right, but for all the wrong reasons. Dan Brown, author of Da Vinci Code. A book, and now a movie, that seeks for the truth about Mary Magdalene.

Dan Brown is right – Mary Magdalene is woman to be honoured, a woman vital to the spread of Christianity.

But he’s right, for all the wrong reasons. Dan Brown suggests that you seek for Mary Magdalene because Jesus and Mary got married. That they had a daughter called Sarah. That there are descendants of Mary and Jesus still alive today.

Let’s look at what the Bible say about Mary Magdalene.

First name: Mary
25% of women in Jesus time were called Mary. It was an incredibly popular name for Jewish parents to give their children. In the Gospels we have
Mary, the mother of Jesus,
Mary, mother of James and John
Mary, wife of Clopas
Mary of Bethany (sister of Martha)
And Mary Magadalene.

Mary is a bit like Smith. Imagine if 25% of Christchurch were Smith’s. That’s like 140 pages of the phone book. Which means, with so many Mary’s, you need to get your second names straight.

Second name: Magdalene
So let’s look at the second names. We first meet Mary, second name, Magdalene, in Luke 8:1-3. Dont miss the extraordinary shock in these 3 verses. This is more upsetting than Christians mixed flatting in the 1980’s. In the culture of Jesus day, women never traveled with men. So when Jesus travels with women in Luke 8:1-3, the tongues are wagging. This is extraordinary behaviour.

Mary, second name Magdalene. Which means “of Magdala.” A place, a tiny fishing village on the northwest corner of the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus day, people got called either by their place, or by their most important relationship.

Mary, second name, Magdala. Most important fact about Mary is not who she’s related to, or married to, but her place, Magdala, a tiny fishing village.

Third: changed
A third Biblical fact about Mary is there in Luke 8, verse 2; Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out;

Jesus was known for changing people’s lives. Seven is a number of completion, of perfection. Mary had lived a life completely and perfectly bound up by darkness and spiritual forces beyond her control. Mary needed help. She finds it. She finds in Jesus a power to change her completely bound up life.

And now Mary travels with Jesus. Is part of his teaching and preaching ministry. I love the fact that neither gender nor past history matter seems to matter to Jesus. I don’t know your past. But don’t let it stop you from serving Jesus. That’s a 3rd fact we learn from Mary Magdalene.

Fourth: Never a prostitute
In 591, Pope Gregory the Great, mixed his Mary’s. And the church has paid the price of Pope Gregory’s mistake ever since. Luke 7 mentions a sinful woman and the Pope Gregory preached a sermon in which he mixed the unnamed woman of Luke 7 with Mary of Magdala. In the sermon, he called Mary Magdalene a prostitute. And so began a totally unfair church rumour. There is no Biblical evidence that Mary, second name Magdala, was a prostitute.

But Luke is a historian. He’s careful with his words and dates. With 25% of women called Mary, Luke would take great care not to mix his Mary’s. There is no Biblical evidence that Mary Magdalene, was a prostitute.

Fifth: Mary, loyal disciple
The next mention of Mary Magdalene is at Jesus death and resurrection.

As John Bunyan wrote in Pilgrims Progress.
They were women that wept when he was going to the cross,
And women that followed him from the cross
And that sat by his [tomb] when he was buried
They were women that was first with him at his resurrection morning
And women that brought tidings first to his disciples that he was risen from the dead.

And he’s right. Mary, second name Magdala, is at the cross in Matthew 27:56. And she’s at the tomb in John 20:1. And she’s the first person to meet the Risen Jesus in John 20. Now don’t forget, as you read these verses, that Dan Brown has written a book suggesting that Jesus and Mary Magdalene are married.

Picture a husband-wife reunion. Imagine a wife meeting a husband she thought dead. And now read John 20:17; Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me.”

Compare it with John 20:27 Jesus saying to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”

If Jesus and Mary Magdalene are married, it’s a weird marriage. His wife can’t hug him, but his male friends can?

Instead of physical contact, Jesus tells Mary to go and tell the disciples. Mary acts not as a wife, but as a witness. She speaks of Jesus in v. 18; “I have seen the Lord.”

The disciples use Mary’s exact same words in v. 25 “We have seen the Lord.”

There’s something about Mary all right. A woman to be honoured, not as wife, but as the first witness to the Risen Jesus. Someone has called her apostle to the apostles. The witness, who’s words are repeated throughout history. “We have seen the Lord.”

There’s something about Mary, second name Magdalene all right.
A woman to be honoured; As a loyal follower, As a faithful friend,
As a first witness, an apostle to the apostle.

We could probably stop there, 5 facts about Mary Magdalene.

Accept that Dan Brown thinks Mary re-appears in the 15th century. He thinks that there’s something about Mary in Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting, the Last Supper.

This is the Leonard’’s Last Supper. Painted over 4 years, on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy. Commissioned by the Dominicans. 29 feet long and 15 feet high.

Note the background; out the 3 windows behind Jesus are the rolling hills of Italy. It’s a great example of contextualization, Jesus Last Supper, painted as if in Italy.

Note all the hands outstretched. The 12 disciples are very animated. Before Leonardo, the Last Supper was always painted as nice and serene. And Judas was always in a corner, sulking. In this Last Supper, Leonardo has Judas in the midde. And the disciples very animated. The Dominicans, who’d paid for the painting, weren’t impressed. How dare Leornardo much around with communion! How dare he disturb the nice, quiet serenity.

And Dan Brown, in The Da Vinci code, suggests that Leonardo painted Mary into this Last Supper, sitting beside Jesus. That’s part of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, that Mary has pride of place as wife beside Jesus. Look says Dan Brown, the person beside Jesus has long hair and fair skin. She looks like a woman. Who could the woman be?

However, Dan Brown doesn’t tell us some art history facts.

Doesn’t tell us, that long hair was very fashionable for young Italians at the time of Leonardo. Lots of youth needed to get a haircut.

Doesn’t tell us, that there’s a long art tradition of painting John with fair skin and long, red hair.

This is El Greco painting the Last Supper. Note John, fair skin and long, reddish coloured hair. Same with Fra Angelico.

Nor does Dan Brown tell us that Leonardo was experimenting when he painted the Last Supper. Normally artists of his time painted onto wet plaster. But Leonardo needed more time, so he experimented with painting onto dry plaster. And it didn’t work. And within 15 years, plaster from the Last Supper was starting to fall off. And over time, it’s been repainted and restored. So we’re dealing with a patched up piece of art work.

Nor does Dan Brown do the maths. I count 12 disciples and that includes Judas. So if Mary is beside John, then 1 of the 12 male disciples is missing. Dan Brown never solves that problem.

Mary Magdalene. 5 Biblical facts,
But unlikely to be married to Jesus and in Leonardo’s Last Supper.

I’m thinking if Dan Brown, is right, and Mary is famous because she’s married to Jesus, then he does sound quite sexist. Woman should be famous for their character or actions, but simply because of who they marry.

Turn the pages of the Bible and I find woman honoured. Not for who they marry. But for their character and for their leadership within the church.

Turning the pages of the Bible,
I see Joanna and Susannah, ministering with Mary Magdalene, alongside Jesus in Luke 8.
I see missionaries; woman like Prisca, or Priscilla, who with her husband planted churches.
I see Phoebe, serving the church,
I see, Junia, a woman, at the end of Romans (16:7), who Paul names as “outstanding among the apostles,”
I see Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians, woman who are leaders in the Philippian Church.
And Mary. Honoured as the first witness of Jesus, an apostle to the apostle

So Dan Brown is totally right. There’s certainly something about Mary.
And about so many other women in the Bible. Named and honoured within the leadership and life of the early church. Not because they’re married to Jesus.

But honoured as a loyal follower,
As a faithful friend,
As an apostolic witness.
There’s something about Mary.

Posted by steve at 10:22 PM


  1. I guess the truth of the matter is……when you die, and you will, where are you going? I’m not too sure whether a disclaimer will stand. 🙂



    Comment by Dave — May 31, 2006 @ 10:54 pm

  2. Thanks for your insights Steve am just printing this and the last one off in prep for our coffee group going to the movie tomorrow night.

    Comment by Jo Wall — June 1, 2006 @ 11:15 am

  3. Dave, I’m afraid you’re too cryptic for words … you’ve lost me. Can you explain a bit further what you’re saying?

    peace to you and your household, steve

    Comment by steve — June 1, 2006 @ 3:00 pm


    Comment by PETER — June 9, 2006 @ 7:02 pm

  5. Peter, appreciate the comment. People are probably making a fuss about Dan Brown rather than Holy Blood, Holy Grail because one is a best seller and movie and the other isn’t.

    And in future, can you please not use capitals when you comment. it’s viewed as “shouting” on the internet and this blog is about dialogue, not shouting.

    have a good day, steve

    Comment by steve — June 9, 2006 @ 9:00 pm

  6. Hi Steve,

    Thank you for the Internet tip. In the DVC book it was mentioned that the Dead Sea scrolls were found in 1950(some say 1947). I wonder by whom and who has them now?

    Comment by Peter — June 20, 2006 @ 10:07 pm

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