John 20:17 is one of the most
enigmatic verses in the Bible. The
truth is that scholars don't know
what it means either, especially in
light of the fact that a mere 10 verses
later, Jesus will invite Thomas to
touch him. Literally speaking, if
the reason Mary should not touch him
is because he has not yet ascended
to his Father, then one might rightly
think he must have ascended (and returned)
by the time he invites Thomas to put
his hand into Jesus' side. But there
is no mention of any ascension in
these verses. Scholars also point
out that in Matthew 28:9 when the
women saw him, they "held him
by the feet, and worshipped him."
They are not told "not to touch
As it is written (a present imperative
with a negative), it probably means,
"stop doing something" as
opposed to "don't even start
doing something." So here it
could mean, "Stop clinging to
me," rather than, "Do not
even think about touching me."
Why would Jesus tell Mary to stop
clinging to him? The possibilities
generally fall into three categories,
each being dependent on how one interprets
the word for (for
am not yet ascended to my Father.).
If the for is considered to
be anticipatory, then it might mean:
"Don't cling to me. Since I have
not yet ascended, go tell my brethren
(disciples) that I am ascending."
If the for is thought to link
the prohibition to what precedes it,
it could mean: "Stop clinging
to me, because you have to go tell
my brethren." In that case, the
"for I am not yet ascended
acts like a parenthetical remark,
an aside. Lastly, it could mean "Stop
clinging to me, because I am not yet
ascended. I am not ready to leave
permanently so you don't have to hang
on. This is not the last time you
will see me."
We may never know exactly what Jesus
meant by these words, but we do know
that these are his first post-resurrection
words, and they are spoken to Mary.
At the least, he is confirming for
Mary that he is alive, that he did
not die. Things will never be quite
the same. Perhaps he simply wants
to tell her that he can't stay with
her, he has to ascend. This, then,
is the first good news of the gospel.
"Let me go, so I can give you
the fullness of what I have to offer."
Jesus tells her to go to his "brethren"
and tell them he is ascending. She
is to share the good news not only
with them but also with the whole
world. Whatever sadness Mary felt
at the tomb has been transformed by
her encounter with Jesus. She follows
his command, running to the disciples
to say, "I have seen the Lord."
Regardless of their response, Mary
has seen the Lord, of that she is
certain. Her joy knows no bounds.
She is the first disciple.