Palm Sunday. What kind of palm do we think of? Coconut? Desert? In Israel, the vast majority of palm trees are date palm trees. The photos I took when I was in Israel show them in a variety of different places. It is also highly probable that when the Bible talks about Israel being a land of milk and honey, the honey refers to date honey, not bee honey. The milk probably refers to goat/sheep milk since they have been in Israel since practically the beginning. It is also of note that, as Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the people took date palm branches and their cloaks to welcome and praise Him like a returning war hero. But then, less than a week later, these same people were shouting, “Crucify him!” They thought He was coming as a warrior to overthrow the Roman government, but His first act was to overthrow the tables of the crooked money changers and sellers profaning the temple. The first of a string of unfulfilled expectations for the crowd. The leaders of the time were upset with Him, not only that the crowds were following Him and not them, but also that He exposed their hypocrisy. So they undermined Him among the people, made false and misleading accusations, and finally got the Roman government to crucify Him. Yet, as we know, three days later He arose. That limited earthly warrior the people had hoped for is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all. And none of what happened to Him was a surprise. It was prophesied about over and over in the Old Testament, He was born to die, and He told His disciples over and over that He would be given over to the authorities, crucified, then rise again. A beautiful, and at the same time sad proclamation He makes to His followers is this: “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” (John 10:18) I hope we can think of these things and really search out how to apply them to our own lives today.
Early morning view of the Sea of Galilee from Magdala
During my time in Israel, I also spent a few nights in Magdala, on a slope just above the Sea of Galilee, the probable home town of Mary Magdalene. A number of times since being there I have come across the false narrative that she was a prostitute, for which there is no Biblical evidence.
Jesus had followers of every type of background, and that included a number of former prostitutes He had forgiven, individuals He said were closer to submitting to God’s reign than the Pharisees. The point of what I am saying here is that Mary Magdalene is not mentioned as being one of them. The Bible says she was a Jesus follower and that He cast out seven evil spirits from her (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2). The main other place she is mentioned is as an eyewitness of the crucifixion and the resurrection.
The unproven idea she was a prostitute is a later tradition. In the middle ages (591), Pope Gregory the Great equated Mary Magdalene with the woman Jesus forgave in Luke 7:36-50, partly because Mary is first mentioned as a Jesus follower in the next passage, Luke 8:1-3. And even here, it just mentions she was healed of having seven evil spirits.
In The Da Vinci Code Dan Brown propagated the conspiracy theory that she was called a prostitute by the Catholic church to try to dismiss her because of the idea held by a few that Jesus had a “special” relationship with her. But at least Brown did get one thing right. There is no evidence she was a prostitute.
Despite the fact that the Bible talks about her as a Jesus follower and witness to the most important events in His life, it is sad that so many “Christian” films and sermons still portray her as a prostitute. Jesus did a great thing in her life, freeing her from seven evil spirits, and she followed Him the rest of her life and was a witness to the resurrection, telling others about Him. So the fact is that she is a wonderful example for us to follow.