Last night at chapel, I was listening to the brother expound on the resurrection of Christ and the appearance to Mary. The preaching sparked a thought that I had had in the past (and of course, which has been discussed to death in commentaries) but I wanted to put down some views on paper. Why did Christ tell Mary not to touch Him when later on in John 20 He’s telling Thomas to touch Him?
The problem is immediately evident to anyone who uses multiple Bible versions.
(KJV) Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
(NASB) Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’ “
(NIV) Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ “
(Message) Jesus said, “Don’t cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I ascend to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.’ “
(For those who read Greek) ÃŽÂ»ÃŽÂÃŽÂ³ÃŽÂµÃŽÂ¹ ÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½ÂÃâ€žÃ¡Â¿â€¡ Ã¡Â¼Â¸ÃŽÂ·ÃÆ’ÃŽÂ¿Ã¡Â¿Â¦Ãâ€šÃ‚Â· ÃŽÂ¼ÃŽÂ® ÃŽÂ¼ÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦ Ã¡Â¼â€¦Ãâ‚¬Ãâ€žÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦, ÃŽÂ¿Ã¡Â½â€Ãâ‚¬Ãâ€° ÃŽÂ³Ã¡Â½Â°ÃÂ Ã¡Â¼â‚¬ÃŽÂ½ÃŽÂ±ÃŽÂ²ÃŽÂÃŽÂ²ÃŽÂ·ÃŽÂºÃŽÂ± Ãâ‚¬ÃÂÃ¡Â½Â¸Ãâ€š Ãâ€žÃ¡Â½Â¸ÃŽÂ½ Ãâ‚¬ÃŽÂ±Ãâ€žÃŽÂÃÂÃŽÂ±Ã‚Â· Ãâ‚¬ÃŽÂ¿ÃÂÃŽÂµÃÂÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦ ÃŽÂ´Ã¡Â½Â² Ãâ‚¬ÃÂÃ¡Â½Â¸Ãâ€š Ãâ€žÃŽÂ¿Ã¡Â½ÂºÃâ€š Ã¡Â¼â‚¬ÃŽÂ´ÃŽÂµÃŽÂ»Ãâ€ ÃŽÂ¿ÃÂÃâ€š ÃŽÂ¼ÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦ ÃŽÂºÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½Â¶ ÃŽÂµÃ¡Â¼Â°Ãâ‚¬Ã¡Â½Â² ÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½ÂÃâ€žÃŽÂ¿Ã¡Â¿—Ãâ€šÃ‚Â· Ã¡Â¼â‚¬ÃŽÂ½ÃŽÂ±ÃŽÂ²ÃŽÂ±ÃŽÂ¯ÃŽÂ½Ãâ€° Ãâ‚¬ÃÂÃ¡Â½Â¸Ãâ€š Ãâ€žÃ¡Â½Â¸ÃŽÂ½ Ãâ‚¬ÃŽÂ±Ãâ€žÃŽÂÃÂÃŽÂ± ÃŽÂ¼ÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦ ÃŽÂºÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½Â¶ Ãâ‚¬ÃŽÂ±Ãâ€žÃŽÂÃÂÃŽÂ± Ã¡Â½â€˜ÃŽÂ¼Ã¡Â¿Â¶ÃŽÂ½ ÃŽÂºÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½Â¶ ÃŽÂ¸ÃŽÂµÃÅ’ÃŽÂ½ ÃŽÂ¼ÃŽÂ¿Ãâ€¦ ÃŽÂºÃŽÂ±Ã¡Â½Â¶ ÃŽÂ¸ÃŽÂµÃ¡Â½Â¸ÃŽÂ½ Ã¡Â½â€˜ÃŽÂ¼Ã¡Â¿Â¶ÃŽÂ½.
So was Jesus saying He couldn’t be held, he couldn’t be touched or to let go of Him?
What’s helpful with most current translations is that they pick up on the present and imperative tense of the verb—unlike the KJV which (currently) implies that Christ is putting up His hands before Mary touches Him and implying a mystical problem which is erased a week later (which I’ll deal with in a little bit).
Interestingly enough, the Message has almost exactly what modern translators have almost as if the author said “I don’t know what to make of this verse, so I’ll just leave it as is.”
What expositors have done is choose from different scenarios. One is that John is showing the basis of the new relationship between Christ and the Disciples is no longer dependant on physical experience, but on the new connection of being in the same family. Christ no longer has to be held on to: they’re part of the same household and therefore the connection is different. I have a problem with this because there’s no major markers in the text to merit that the reason Christ is saying this is to teach a lesson about physical connection. After all, its only a few verses later where Christ has no problem showing a physical connection to establish proof.
Of course, proponents of this interpretation say “Yes, the basis of the Thomas discussion was physical but it wasn’t a matter of relationship, it was a matter of evidence.” The thought being that when Mary held on to Christ, she was hugging him in the relationship of loving her rabboni. But Christ says, in effect, that’s not the way we relate anymore—now we relate with the connection of family, that even if I’m not around, we’re still that close: we relate in Spirit and in Truth.
Another interpretation that I’ve heard (mostly from the crowd that sticks within the confines of the KJV) is that Christ literally had not ascended to His Father to complete a specific task which would then later insure ‘Touchability’. This task, some have said (including the preacher from last night) is that metaphorical waving of that sheaf offering of the Firstfruits waved before the Father—making a connection to the times of the Feasts and the fact that Christ was the firstfruits from the Dead. After this offering was shown before the Father, then it would be accepted and able to be partaken by other people: in other words, allowed to be touched.
I personally think that’s a lot to pack into the verse especially when (1) in Matthew 28:4 a crowd of women before the resurrected Christ cling to His feet; (2) the translation isn’t “don’t touch me” it’s closer to “stop holding on to me.” Presumably of touching is the problem, then the presentation is already figuratively “spoiled” as it were.
Of course, proponents of this interpretation would say (contra 1) that the events with Mary occur before the events with the women in Matthew 28:4 and (contra 2) even if the translation is in the present tense, what Christ is saying is to stop handling the sheaf offering before its waved. Like I said, I think its way too much to pack into a verse with no further indication of all that beside ascension to the Father.
I think it’s helpful to see what the verse actually says when you throw in all the proper tenses:
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to Me for I am not yet ascending to my Father. Go to my brothers telling them that “I am going up to My father and Your Father and to My God and Your God”.
John’s theological bent in the entire Gospel is that the glory of God is being fully revealed by Jesus Christ via the Cross and Resurrection. John shows Christ being Sent into the World to reveal the glory of God, several signs that point to the Ultimate glorification of God, the entrance in to Jerusalem (where Christ requests that the Father is glorified in the Son) in which the glory is to be seen, the betrayal of Christ (where Christ says “now the Son is glorified) and finally the unveiling of the crucified lamb on the Cross and the resurrection from the dead immediately afterward. John’s compass, as it were, points to Christ’s glory in going to the cross and going back to the Father, physically.
When Christ says He’s not yet ascending to His Father it’s in light of the fact that He’s going up to His Father. He’s not there yet, but He’s on His way.
I would then take Christ’s words to Mary as missiological, comforting and while simultaneously assuming what He’s always talked about: He had to die and resurrect to reveal God’s glory and to finish His task, He had to go to His Father to send the Paraclete. Something like this:
“Mary, Mary: let go of me, look, get up. You’ve got a job to do and it’s not like I’m leaving right this second! Look, you need to go, right now, tell my brothers that I’m going to My Father and their Father, to My God and Their God: just like I told them I was going to do. I’m here to round off their joy, but I’ve gotta’ go and send the one who will round off their minds—go tell them: they’re part of the family of God now.”