Published 11:23 am Wednesday, May 8, 2019
After experiencing Easter, the Gospel of John records an interesting account of the resurrected Jesus and Mary found in John 20:17. “Do not cling on to me…” That phrase can be difficult to understand, especially since Jesus later invites Thomas to touch him just a few verses later in John 20:27. Luke 24:39 records Jesus telling the frightened disciples to see his hands and feet, handle me and see; for a spirit has not flesh and blood. Matthew 28:9 even states that “they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him.” Even the form of John’s statement is difficult, leading some scholars to think that what John originally wrote was not ME APTOU, translated as “Do not touch me” but ME PTOOU “Do not be afraid” (because the Greek verb PTOEIN means “to flutter in fear”). Many explanations have been offered throughout Christian history; too many to adequately discuss, much less give a satisfying explanation.
I won’t even refute explanations that have been given, some quite absurd and offensive to me — such as the claim that Jesus would not allow a woman to touch His glorified body, etc. I will also not simply share what the early Church fathers have discovered this passage to mean. Those pursuits are valid and helpful yet much has been said and still so much left unexplained or unsatisfying.
What I will do is offer a clue that has helped me experience the resurrected Jesus personally. Now, one must wonder why the blessed Apostle John, who is writing the entire gospel account in Greek, makes an effort to first state the original Hebrew word, ‘Raboni’ followed by its translation. He is already writing the entire dialogue in Greek, so to stop at one word then mention its translation has to be for a reason. He returns to mention the original word ‘Raboni,’ followed by its translation, not to waste time with extra writing, but to emphasize Mary’s response. To her, Jesus was “Raboni,” He was “teacher,” simply that and no more.
Jesus’s response, “do not cling on to me,” is therefore in response to her understanding of Him. Mary Magdalene, who without a doubt did love Jesus, only understood Him as “teacher,” nothing more. And so, His response “do not cling to me,” is to say, Do not hold on to this idea of Me as ‘teacher’ only. Do not think of me as only that. Yes, I am your teacher, but I am so much more. I am your God and Savior. Let go of your understanding with an open mind to a new reality. He is telling her, not to hold on to Him with this misconception of solely “teacher.” Only then can she hold on to Him!
What misconceptions do we cling on to? Who is Christ to you? How have you held on to Him? Is He merely a teacher? A role model? Don’t be a cling on.
John Moxley can be reached at Jmoxley1@juno.com.