When most of us hear the name “Magdala,” if we think of anything we might possibly connect this city’s name with the New Testament’s Mary the Magdalene – which is just a fancier way of saying “Mary of Magdala.” But the ruins of this ancient city, tells us a lot about faithfulness in the face of defeat.
During the last century “B.C.” and the first century “A.D.,” Jews chafed under Roman rule. Sure, some made off pretty well working with the Romans, but many yearned for the kind of self-governing independence that their people had been promised – but then squandered by their ancestors in the desire for a king. A couple minor would-be insurrectionists had been crushed over the years, but they were always just a minor inconvenience.
By the latter half of the first century A.D., the zealots’ frustration was hitting a fever pitch.
The result was the Great Revolt.
The region around the Sea of Galilee was a hotbed of activity for the zealot rebels – those Jews who wanted to overthrow the Romans. Now, with what, exactly, they would replace Roman rule was pretty hazy. The only thing the zealots could agree on was getting rid of the Romans.
Over time, the zealots had become so accustomed to being zealously opposed to Rome that their zealotry became an end unto itself.
Magdala was a fishing village of little note… except as a gathering place for the Jewish rebels. We know this because it was also the hometown of the Jewish military leader who switched sides and is known to us as the Roman historian Josephus Flavius. In 67 A.D., the Romans laid seige to Magdala. Some inhabitants fled after it fell but most were murdered by the Romans.
For Texans, think of a massacre like Goliad or the Alamo… but probably worse.
The archeological ruins uncovered in recent years have found city streets still barricaded against the coming Roman forces. Here’s the thing: hastily stacked stones and refuse were never going to stop the Romans. The people of Magdala knew it, but decided to send a message that this revolt wasn’t going to be put down so easily.
The Romans learned at Magdala that the zeal of the Jewish rebels would be costly for everyone involved.
The Romans did finally, several years later, crush the revolt – but at a tremendous price of lives, money, and extertion. Towns like Magdala were literally wiped from the earth by the might of the Roman war machine, and faded from history. We remember the Alamo and Goliad because we won; would either place be remembered if the Texas Revolution had failed?
Yet the people of Magdala were just as heroic as the men at the Alamo. So for us Magdala is a reminder that no matter how noble the struggle, losing is always a real possibility. We fight not knowing if we’ll win; but if we feel so called, we must fight nonetheless – and fight zealously.
Our calling isn’t to be successful the way the world defines it, but to be faithful.
We might get to see a glorious victory, or we may fade into the dark recesses of time as a footnote in history. In our lives, we must joyfully embrace the faithfulness of being in the fight.