No More Scarlet Letters

W. Somerset Maugham once said, “There is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.”

With networks and newspapers broadcasting another New York Congressman’s sordid sexual secrets, and the public in a swirl of surprise and horror (and prurient fascination), it’s good for us to ponder again the profound grace that Jesus Christ extends to sinners like us, guilty of shameful things.

History has tended to give Mary Magdalene a reputation as a woman with a sordid sexual past. We’re not sure why. The Bible tells us little about Mary other than she had seven demons cast out of her, was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, saw where Jesus was buried, and saw the resurrected Jesus.

Maybe Mary’s rep is a bad rap. Maybe she’s been unjustly identified as the immoral woman in Luke 7. Maybe she’s borne the disrepute of her (likely) hometown, Magdala. Or maybe those strange early Christian apocryphal writings are to blame.

Or maybe Mary really did have a past. That’s the way I lean. It seems reasonable that a vague remnant of what was once her public shame lingers to highlight her Savior’s grace.

If that’s true, consider this: Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus appeared to after being raised. The first person! Not his mother, not Peter, but a formerly immoral, demonized woman.

No wonder the disciples doubted Mary at first when she told them Jesus had appeared to her. You mean he appeared to Mary first and not us? Why would he do that?

Why indeed. I think that’s precisely what we’re supposed to ask.

I think one reason is similar to why God included Tamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba in the lineage of the Messiah and why the first recorded person to whom Jesus self-disclosed as the Messiah was the woman at the well: to illustrate that Jesus came to take away the horrible shame of sin and bestow the greatest honor on undeserving sinners. Jesus removed the scarlet letters these women carried around and made them heirs of the kingdom—daughters of the King!

And if your trust is in Jesus, that’s exactly what he does for you. Before God you wear no scarlet letter for any past sin anymore. Jesus takes away your sin. It is gone. You are clean. There is no lingering surprise and horror before God’s throne. Only honor bestowed on the children of God.