“Become content at heart, while also remaining discontent and disobedient.” The Gospel of Mary of Magdala 3:12-13a
Yes, you are reading that citation correctly.
There is a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and if you’ve never heard of it you’re not alone. Most people do not know it exists.
It was an important text for a number of early Jesus communities, and it offers a lot for the current church now because it’s pretty amazing. It was written sometime in the first two centuries. It is the only known gospel attributed to a woman—and not just any woman, but the first female apostle, Mary Magdalene.
Unfortunately, history is written by the winners, so it is not surprising it was not included in the Bible, as we know it.
But it is one of many such texts that are increasingly relevant as the church as a whole is being called to recognize that we are a part of a larger movement, as much, if not more, than we are an institution.
The verse above comes from a part in the text where the resurrected Jesus is talking to a group of disciples of which Mary Magdalene is a part. Jesus says a number of things in this section that surprise and liberate.
He basically says there is no such thing as sin, except when we confuse our higher and lower natures; The Child of True Humanity (i.e. the Son of God) exists within you; and finally, holy disobedience is best grounded in a contented heart.
We cannot understand the early Jesus movements, and any of the writings they produced, including the New Testament, unless we understand that the movement that would become the church was formed in the crucible of resistance to the Roman Empire.
When Jesus taught his friends to pray, “Thy kingdom come,” He was doing so against the rulers of the day. He was creating a regular reminder that the terrorizing powers of Rome were not all powerful.
To pray that God’s kingdom would be reality on earth, not in some heaven far away, was essentially praying that each life and body would be treated as if they too were God’s only child. This is a prayer that the absurdity and irony of the beatitudes would become real in their lifetimes.
In some pockets of the church today, most notably the progressive church, we are answering the call to resist an empire now. This bright thread of faith is powerful fuel for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and helped make marriage equality possible.
Our willingness to challenge power with our faith continues to work against systemic inequality in our society.
This is why the church is here.
The gospel is nothing unless it is being used to actually set captives free—and not just metaphorically.
Yet, how do we sustain ourselves in the work, and what does this have to do with the personal growth aspect of the spiritual life?
We can focus on being “content at heart, while also remaining discontent and disobedient.”
This verse from the Gospel of Mary is a great reminder that contentment and unapologetic activism are spiritually connected.
To seek a contented heart while confronting grave injustices is not contentment with, or acceptance of, those injustices. Rather, it is about cultivating a peace that passes all understanding that sustains us for the holy work that sends us into the fire.
Being content at heart while remaining discontent does not dismiss the holy anger of the prophets that many of us know. But deep contentment in the midst of righteous anger empowers us much like the force empowers Jedi Knights. Maybe Mary of Magdala can speak to us through forgotten pages thousands of years to teach us about contentedly raising holy hell.
Rev. Barbara Lea Callaghan is the Second Minister at Hancock United Church of Christ in Lexington, Ma. and a licensed psychotherapist. Barbara is passionate about building communities of depth and love that are engaged in liberative social transformation through the power and grace of God. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker, writer and general lover of life. When Barbara is not working she can be found outside exploring near and far with her wife Kate and their dogs Bela and Cuzco.