I'm preaching this coming Sunday from Mary Magdalene's garden chat with Jesus (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and am so excited I can hardly take it! July 22nd comes around every year as a Feast Day in honor of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle, and this year it falls on a Sunday. In the last few verses of the story, Jesus (now resurrected) sends Mary to fill the disciples in on what he said and...wait for it...she does! For me, both as a woman and as a preacher, it just doesn't get any better.
I took my enthusiasm and intensity on the topic to a weekly pastors' text study. As group-leader-of-the-week, I laid out some thoughts and questions about Mary Magdalene's story, the various interpretations of who she is, and how this text might be preached on Sunday. The conversation was open and honest and wonderful. And then someone called the question that has been with me for days, "Do we lose something here when we make this more about Mary's gender rather than emphasizing her as a follower of Jesus?"
The problem is that in so many ways, the last few thousand years of the church and, by extension, Biblical interpretation have been absolutely about gender - which genders are good or bad or clean or unclean or given voice or not given voice or public or private or preachers or listeners or... The list of how gender has formed, and been formed by, church and society is utterly exhausting.
Pat Keifert, one of my seminary professors, would urge us to understand the assumptions behind someone's idea before entering into the conversation. He wanted us to consider what we were agreeing to when we began a disagreement. Because often, even when we disagree, we are agreeing to certain assumptions about how the argument should go. So, does calling attention to Mary as woman, or anyone as a woman, in addition to whomever else she be might be lock us into the disagreement in the exact spot from which we we are trying to move? Or might it give us a starting point from which we are able travel to something new?