Middle School students have a stressor in their life that is different than anything you or I ever experienced if you’re over the age of 30. It is ever-present, could strike at any time, and there is no way to guarantee it will never happen. This very real and potential enemy is cyberbullying and it can happen on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or whatever the newest social media craze happens to be.
Cyberbullying is a form of rejection and public humiliation. It creates social anxiety and for good reason. One negative Snap, one mean Facebook post, or one unkind Instagram can destroy any young teen’s reputation and social standing. Worse, even if it is taken down off the internet, the student knows it will never really go away. It only takes a moment for an excellent reputation to be destroyed with lasting consequences.
However, slander and gossip are not new, even though now it is communicated digitally. One example of how to ruin someone else’s reputation can be seen in the life of Mary of Magdala. One bad report, one misrepresented comment, one error in observation – and the Mary you think you know may not be the Mary she really was.
Two Wrong Reports
1. Mary of Magdala was a prostitute.
RESPONSE: NO! She was not!
WHAT HAPPENED: Where did this rumor begin and how has it been continued throughout the Western church? In the 6th century, Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) falsely reported that Mary of Magdala was the unnamed sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50 and the unnamed woman identified as a prostitute in John 7:53-8:11. He preached in a famous homily that the 7 demons which were cast out of Mary were the seven cardinal (deadly) sins. His famous sermon has been referred to and repeated throughout the centuries including the 20th century when Mel Gibson repeated this interpretative error about Mary Magdalene’s life in the movie, The Passion of the Christ.
TEACHABLE MOMENT: A faithful Christian can be destroyed due to a careless word that gets passed on, and on, and on. Everyone would do well to remember the song we sing as children, “O be careful little mouth what you say”! We are to protect one another’s good name and give one another the benefit of the doubt; whatever we say about one another should be accurate, necessary and loving. As for our teenagers, before anything is posted on social media or they read anything posted, make sure they consider three questions:
- Is it that important and worthy of my time and attention?
- Is it written with a loving heart? (Do you trust the author’s integrity?)
- Is it completely true? (Or does the author tend to color the facts to fit their own agenda?)
2. Mary of Magdala was Jesus’ Wife.
RESPONSE: NO! She was not!
WHAT HAPPENED: The Da Vinci Code, written by Dan Brown, was a book then made into a movie, that depicts Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus. There is no biblical nor any extra-biblical literature that would support this in any way. This is fiction and should not be considered anything more than an author’s imagination.
TEACHABLE MOMENT: Making things up about someone, including exaggeration of an event or person, may seem harmless at the time, but it could easily become harmful as people are just as prone to believe that which is not true vs that which is true. Honesty is always the best policy and, even if true, we should think twice before we mess with someone’s reputation or tell someone else’s story. Before anything is posted, consider the following:
- What is the point I am trying to make by talking about someone else’s life?
- Would I say what I am writing to their face and is it not only truthful, but also loving?
- Have I exaggerated any detail?
The Right Report
Mary of Magdala is a role model for us; having been delivered from demons, she lived her life as a devoted disciple. So, let’s set the record straight. She was delivered from spiritual oppression and in grateful, faithful response, she lived a life characterized by her adoration of Jesus in generous (Luke 8:2-3), sacrificial (Matthew 27:55-56), and brave (Matthew 27:61) service. Mary Magdalene made herself available to serve Christ during His ministry years, was present at the cross, and went to the tomb while still dark after his burial; her availability put her in a position to be the first person Jesus told of His resurrection. Mary Magdalene has been called the “Apostle of the Apostles” since she was the one Jesus instructed to go announce to the disciples that Christ indeed had risen from the grave; Mary ran to let others know Her precious Lord lived. Mary of Magdala was a faithful Christ-follower worthy of our respect and consideration as a role model.
Dear Reader, helping today’s teenagers handle the world of digital communication takes intentional time and conversations. Helping them see how reputations are both made and destroyed can help them consider what to say and not say in their interactions on social media. Encourage your teens to tell you immediately if they are a victim of cyberbullying, and help them consider carefully how much social media affects their world view. Thinking with our teens vs leaving them on their own to figure out the world of social media is key to effective discipleship with today’s teen.
Blessings to you as you think through how to live as a devoted disciple as Mary of Magdala did while living in a virtual world. Shalom! Elizabeth