"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Mary Magdalene's Jealous Love: On the Virtue And Vice of Jealousy

Nole Me Tangere, Icon of the "Do not touch me"

In the gospel reading on the feast of Mary of Magdala is an image of love that I would categorize as jealous love. To understand jealous love, we have to understand the two uses of jealousy in the Bible. In Greek mythology, Ζῆλος (Zēlos) was the daimon or god who personified dedication, emulation and eagerness. However he is also the god of rivalry and envy. The English "zealous" came from his name evoking warmth of feeling. The verb form ζηλοῖ (zēloi) is translated in English as "jealous." We have to distinguish the interior movements at work when we use these words. It can be either for or against, positive or negative. In a positive sense, it means eager striving, enthusiasm or praise. Negatively, it means ill will or envy (Strong's Greek 2206). To discern in this manner is important because these words are used sometimes of God, e.g., “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4-5). This type of jealousy is not ill will. Rather, it is entirely appropriate to feel jealous for something that God declares to belong to Him–worship, praise, honor and adoration–because only God is truly worthy of these. St Paul, likewise, uses it when he says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy...” (2 Corinthians 11:2).

Mary Magdalene too, had this godly jealousy which made her so brave and dogged to stay with Jesus throughout the crucifixion and until his burial. Luke 8.2 tells us that Jesus cast out seven demons from her. I would not be surprised if one of the seven is a jealous demon. Throughout history she is the woman reputed as the 'bad girl' in town (Luke 7:36-50). Christians have imputed the blame of sexual misconduct on her even if there is nothing that could substantiate such allegations. But what is not is that Jesus and Mary had such a great familiarity like a family. This is shown how she wailed at Jesus's tomb out of great grief and sorrow. In the original Greek, Mary's weeping is a wailing as in Matthew 15:13, where weeping is accompanied by gnashing. The original Greek "klaiosa" means to wail with loud shrieks brought on by uncontainable emotional and psychological pain (John 20:11).

Moved by her jealous love, she went to the tomb together with the other Mary’s. “Now when he was risen early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons… And they, when they heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, disbelieved" (cf Mk 16:9-11). The great privilege of being stricken with a jealous love is a dogged persistence and even stubbornness that persists beyond death. Mary was concerned about Jesus who was buried like a criminal in so-called “wretched places” away from his loved ones. Burials of executed persons by family members in family tombs and public funerals were prohibited so as to preserve the purity of the Land. Joseph of Arimathea took responsibility to bury Jesus’s body with the help of Nicodemus. Jesus who was executed ought to be buried properly, except in places of honor. This greatly concerned Mary. She wanted to pay her last respects for a dead friend whom she misses so much. But when she saw that the body was missing she was thrown back into the horror of the humiliating crucifixion scene again. What is left now of her Lord’s dignity? Not only did Jesus die a criminal’s death on a cross, but the defilement towards his body continued into those “wretched places” of burial. Mary’s jealous love turned into near despair. She was frantic or panic-stricken that she looked for the body as if it were a part of her. Will anyone of us be able to do what Mary Magdalene has done? Ask yourself, “Can I say my love is as jealous as Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus?”

There is a second usage of jealousy which is a negative one. It is entirely different when a jealous desire turns into the sin or vice of jealousy (Galatians 5:20) or the act of envying someone who has something we do not have. Think of the time you felt jealous or envious of another person because he or she has a nice car or home. Or that time when you envied somebody with a talent that you do not have. Another example, from the film "WW 1984," would be Diana's gemologist friend, Barbara Minerva, who turned into Wonder Woman's greatest foe because of jealousy of Diana's beauty and superhero strength. Barbara's jealousy led to selfish and villainous desires, which turned into ill will, deceit, greed and self-destruction.

Jealousy is an act of affection and seduction which is spiritual at its best, e.g., angels who are pure spirits feel jealous too. It can either be a boon or a bane, a virtue or vice. This feeling is something that God, angels and all human beings—who were created "a little lower than the angels" (Psalm 8)—share in common as rational beings, specifically, beings with a heart—a jealous heart. We might think that when one speaks of the heart we just think of the heart of flesh inside our chest cage. When someone makes any hand gesture that says "from the heart" that person is trying to speak the language of the heart. But we must be discerning to whom we are giving our heart because there is already Someone who owns this heart of ours—God who loved us first.

This is also the reason why the deepest prayer is always of the heart, for it is the heart that prays to God and which a jealous God constantly listens to. He wants to get to our heart to know our deepest desires and longings and to know when we are choosing him and when we are not, when we are on the right path or when we are straying. Even during the times when we feel the heart is not saying anything, God sees and understands for nothing eludes his consciousness. If we truly believe in this why do we not lay open our heart and ask God to put into it whatever is pleasing to Him?

Finally, we know that Jesus would like us to have the same jealous love like he does. Nonetheless, we must let God cling himself to us, 'his' way. When Mary Magdalene saw the risen Lord, she thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Those are very possessive words. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." Jesus acknowledged the clinginess of Mary that is why he said to her “Stop holding on to me.” But do not think this is pushing away Mary. Far from it. Jesus likes it when we cling to him. In God’s plan, Mary is both instrument and witness at that time when Jesus was about to complete his mission of making all of us cling not to Jesus Christ alone but also to his Father in heaven whom he dearly loves and clings himself to. He said to Mary, “But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced this beautiful plan of God to gather all into God’s family. Let us all cling to the Lord, with the same jealous love of Mary Magdalene. However we must allow the Lord because God's way is always the best. We beg for the grace of saving us from the sin and vice of jealousy and turn our hearts to the godly virtue of jealousy. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ


  1. Beautiful reflection of Mary Magdalene as well as love and Jealousy... It made me reflect also about that kind of love that I have for Jesus... If I may also add, jealousy may come also with perseverance... Like Magdalene did when she perseveringly looked for Jesus... And I remember a quote from St. Josemaría, which I read before... "What is the secret of perseverance? LOVE.. Fall in love and you will not leave Him..."

    Thank you po for your wonderful reflections, Fr. Jom... Ingat po kayo palagi...


    1. Thank you most especially for your prayers. Take care always too and may God bless us!


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