Ann Turner rejects the claim that Mary was a prostitute and describes her – the only woman in the New Testament whose full name is used – as “a model of what a true disciple looks like”:
[A]ttempts to move Mary to the background of the Passion Narratives and to erase her as a vital and loving witness to Jesus began well before the fifth century. It began with the writer of Luke, in Acts, where Peter and Paul are given center stage as those who preach to the Gentiles, as those who witness to the risen Christ — ignoring that it is Mary Magdalene, called the Apostle to the Apostles, who first sees the risen Christ in the garden, according to both the Gospels of Matthew and John. In Luke, when Mary and two other women return breathless and excited to say they have seen the Lord, the male disciples think their words are “like nonsense” (Luke 24:11). Is the author of Acts responsible for this erasure of The Magdalene, as she sometimes is called, or is it part of a wider effort to discredit her authority and put Peter at the head of the new church?
In the sixth century, Pope Gregory the Great tried to undermine Mary Magdalene’s reputation by connecting her story to the story of the prostitute that precedes her story in the Gospel of Luke. But this is a later misinterpretation. Luke is clear that Mary was the woman healed by Jesus when he expelled seven demons from her. And Mary responded by contributing to Jesus’ ministry and following him. Luke says she was a woman of means, like some other women who followed Jesus. They were not just followers in the passive sense — they were disciples.
(Image of The Penitent Magdalene by Guido Reni, circa 1635, via Wikimedia Commons)