Christianity 201

May 6, 2020

Look, Speak With, But Don’t Hug the Post-Resurrection Jesus

Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
– John 20:17 NIV

Today we return again to Good Question, a blog by InterVarsity Press (IVP) author Christopher R. Smith. This is a treasure trove of Q&A on subjects that some people find difficult or controversial.  Click the title below to read at source.

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection?

Q. Why did Jesus tell Mary not to hug him after his resurrection because he hadn’t yet returned to the Father? Why would Jesus object to Mary clinging to him … that is really puzzling. You would think he would have reciprocated with a bear hug for about an hour, if only for her sake. What’s the connection between the return to the Father and not clinging to him?

This is indeed a puzzling matter, and interpreters have offered many different explanations for it. Personally I like the way that Raymond Brown explains it in his commentary on the Gospel of John.

Brown suggests, first of all, that when Jesus tells Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” we should not think he is speaking of the ascension that Luke describes as taking place forty days after the resurrection. Brown feels that that particular event, in which Jesus was seen ascending on the clouds into heaven, was intended to indicate evocatively that the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus had come to an end. Brown believes that Jesus also went to be with the Father in less visible ways in between his appearances to the disciples. The first of those times would have been right after the resurrection, and Mary would have seen him, in effect, on his way there.

As Brown understands it, this timing is actually crucial to the point John is making. At the Last Supper, Jesus had said, “I will come back to you. In a little while the world will see me no longer, but you will see me.” Brown says that when Mary sees Jesus, “she thinks that he has returned as he promised and now he will stay with her and his other followers, resuming former relationships.” Jesus had also said, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Brown says that Mary is “trying to hold on to the source of her joy, since she mistakes an appearance of the risen Jesus for his permanent presence with his disciples.” But instead, by “telling her not to hold on to him, Jesus indicates that his permanent presence is not by way of appearances but by way of the gift of the Spirit that can only come after he has ascended to the Father.” (Jesus had also told his followers at the Last Supper, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”)

So Jesus is basically saying to Mary, “I’m not on my way back from the Father” (this is not what my continuing presence with you will be like), “I’m on my way to the Father” (so that I can send the Spirit, who will be my continuing presence with you). So this would be yet another place in the Gospel of John where a person mistakes a physical reality for a spiritual one and Jesus needs to explain otherwise (as in the case of Nicodemus misunderstanding what it means to be “born again,” for example, or the woman at the well misunderstanding what Jesus meant by “living water,” and so forth).

Brown argues convincingly that the present imperative used here means “don’t cling to me” or “don’t hold on to me” rather than “don’t touch me.” So this isn’t an issue of what Jesus’ post-resurrection, pre-ascension body was like and how it could or couldn’t interact with earthly bodies. Rather, the issue is that Jesus’ followers are not to “cling to” him as they knew him on this earth, but rather experience his continuing presence through the Spirit he has sent from the Father.


Go Deeper:

Because Christopher Smith mentioned Raymond Brown, I thought some of you might be interested in further research Brown did on this topic, as located at Stack Exchange. (Warning: There’s quite a range of interpretations here!)

  • Jesus’ wounds were still sore so he did not like being touched.
  • Kraft proposes that the prohibition was because it was against ritual to touch a dead body.
  • Chrysostom and Theophylact argue that Jesus was asking that more respect be shown to him. This theory is sometimes linked to the notion that while it was not appropriate for a woman to touch Jesus it was fine for a man like Thomas.
  • C. Spicq sees the resurrected Jesus as the equivalent of one of the Jewish high priests who should not be sullied by physical contact.
  • Kastner, who believes Christ returned in the nude, believes the prohibition was so that Mary would not be tempted by Jesus’ body.
  • Mary should not touch Jesus because she should not need physical proof of the resurrection but should trust in her faith.
  • Bultmann sees the phrase as an indirect way of saying that the resurrected Jesus was not at this point tangible.
  • According to Moule Jesus’ intervention is not a prohibition on being touched, but rather an assurance that the touching is not needed for he had not yet returned to the Father and was still firmly here on Earth. His use of the present tense is said to mean that he should not be touched just at this moment, but could be touched in future.
  • Some link it with the next verse stating that they should be read as one to say “don’t touch me instead go tell my disciples of the news.”
  • In John Calvin’s commentary he argues that Jesus did not forbid simple touching, but rather that Jesus had no problems until the women began to cling to him as though they were trying to hold him in the corporeal world at which point Jesus told them to let go. Some translations thus use touch for the seemingly permitted actions in Mark and cling for the action Jesus chides Mary for in this verse.
  • Barrett mentions the possibility that between this verse and John 20:22 Jesus fully ascends to heaven.

Alternative translations mentioned by Brown:

  • Some scholars eliminate the negative leaving the phrase as “touch me,” implying that Jesus is telling Mary to verify his physical form
  • W.E.P. Cotter and others argue that the text should actually read “do not fear me”
  • W.D. Morris believes it should read “do not fear to touch me”

…we see as though through frosted glass, says the scripture, so some passages are not going to be immediately clear to everyone all the time.

 

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