Drippy. Cornball. Insipid. Schmaltzy. Mawkish. Lachrymose. Foolishly sentimental. I could go on. Don’t these words conjure certain images? Overwrought women, crying at the drop of a hat? Melodramatic love scenes: “oh, John, I love you so.” “oh, Mary, I would die for you.” “Oh, John.” “Oh, Mary.” We all have at least one friend, who, after a few drinks, turns on the waterworks—“oh, man, I love you. You’re my best friend, dude. I’m sorry I made out with your sister.”
Do you feel these are negative images? Do we feel uncomfortable around people like this? Do we mutter the word “pathetic” under our breath? Or perhaps feel ashamed when we behave in this way? Do we laugh and chuckle when watching what we consider a corny love scene and feel superior for not acting in this manner? Why? Too emotional? Too cliché?
And yet, all the words I listed are synonyms for the word “maudlin.” Do I see a look of recognition on your faces? Maudlin, from the Middle English, Maudelen, from Magdalene, the surname of the saint who we are celebrating today. While originally just meaning “tearful”–in medieval art, Mary was often depicted weeping as a right sign of her repentance–the word now carries such negativity—weakly emotional, foolishly sentimental, especially when drunk.
Is it through the lenses of clichés and negativity that we view Mary then? Do we see the repentant prostitute who so loved riches and beauty that she fell into a life of prostitution and then repented when she met Jesus, this image that so much of Christian culture saw over the centuries? Do we see, perhaps feeling enlightened, the Mary who may have been the companion and wife of Christ, if we believe scholars who cite the Nag Hammadi scrolls? Or Dan Brown?
What about the lenses of clichés and negativity through which we view each other—friends, family, strangers? We can put on those lenses very easily, especially when we are already using them as a mirror for ourselves. As what clichés do you see others? As what cliché do you see yourself? Why do we hold on to these images of ourselves at times?
I may be edging into the maudlin here. But we have Paul today, who tells us that “we regard no one from a human point of view. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! In other words, we can, with Christ as our teacher, learn to see ourselves and each other, through the lens of the Trinity, through God’s eyes, as beloved, unique—no longer clichés through a human point of view.
For Mary, perhaps, this realization about her teacher, as she meets him at the tomb, and when he sent the seven demons from her, perhaps a negative time in her life, brought tears, tears of joy—foolishly sentimental, perhaps, but full of love, nonetheless.
We’ve begun redeeming Mary Magdalene from the negative clichés which abound throughout our culture. Maybe it’s time we do so for ourselves, too. Amen.