Sunday, April 8, 2007

Noli Me Tangere

Noli Me Tangere (1524), by Hans Holbein the Younger

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”
John 20:11-17

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to touch him? In my search for an answer, I found this article in The Smithsonian Magazine, titled "Who Was Mary Magdalene?" by James Carroll, who writes a regular column in The Boston Globe.
The multiplicity of the Marys by itself was enough to mix things up—as were the various accounts of anointing, which in one place is the act of a loose-haired prostitute, in another of a modest stranger preparing Jesus for the tomb, and in yet another of a beloved friend named Mary. Women who weep, albeit in a range of circumstances, emerged as a motif. As with every narrative, erotic details loomed large, especially because Jesus’ attitude toward women with sexual histories was one of the things that set him apart from other teachers of the time. Not only was Jesus remembered as treating women with respect, as equals in his circle; not only did he refuse to reduce them to their sexuality; Jesus was expressly portrayed as a man who loved women, and whom women loved.

The climax of that theme takes place in the garden of the tomb, with that one word of address, “Mary!” It was enough to make her recognize him, and her response is clear from what he says then: “Do not cling to me.” Whatever it was before, bodily expression between Jesus and Mary of Magdala must be different now.
After his Resurrection, Jesus has a body. He is the same Jesus, but, at the same time, he is different, and his physical relationship with his disciples had to be different.

Carroll's entire piece is worth reading as a counter-story to the nonsense floating around about Mary Magdalene.

An archive of his recent columns can be found here.

Preface of Easter
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by thy life-giving Spirit; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.


  1. The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

  2. He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

  3. Off to service here in a few. Have a beautiful Easter day down there in NOLA.

  4. Alleluia alleluia alleluia amen!

  5. The Lord is risen indeed for us all! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

  6. Best wishes to all of you for a joyous holiday.


  7. Mary of Magdala became a prostitute in the conventional wisdom of believers because she is named shortly after the appearance of the prostitute who washes Jesus' feet at the end of Luke 7 (Mary of Magdala is named in Chapter 8, when Jesus sets off to teach away from the Pharisees (Ch. 7 is the last time they appear in Luke's gospel for some time).

    We've forgotten what an erotic act that footwashing was, but we've retained the idea of the eroticism by labeling the next named woman a whore for all eternity.

    Such is human perversity.

  8. Oop, early morning, and not thinking clearly.

    We used to have wonderful discussions in seminary about Jesus after the resurrection. Did he have a body, or not? All the Gospel witnesses are intentional inconclusive. In Luke, he appears to the disciples, but is only recognized in the breaking of the bread, then he vanishes. In John, he walks through walls and closed doors, but has wounds that can be touched, and eats fish with Peter (to prove he's not a ghost).

    Fascinating stuff. Ambiguity is the very warp and woof of life!

  9. We've forgotten what an erotic act that footwashing was

    James Carroll covers all of that in the rest of the article in the Smithsonian Magazine, including the sequence of events as recounted in the Gospels, which leads to attributing to Mary Magdalene characteristics and actions that were not hers.

    In the first century Middle East - and even now in certain areas - the only time that a man saw a woman with her hair loose was in the bedroom, if he was her husband. If he was not her husband, then she was a prostitute.

  10. The explanation given in the Smithsonian may well be true. I don't know.

    But I see Mary Magdalene as not a prostitute but still a woman who was all too familiar with darkness and despair. When she saw Jesus she probably enveloped him in a bear hug, laughing and crying. He bore this for a time, then perhaps laughing himself, gently moved her away. For here in her arms was the hope beyond all hope, and if he had not intervened, she would have been happy to cling for all eternity.

  11. Bluebird, there is no evidence from the Gospels that Magadalene was a prostitute, and I don't think she was either.

    In the incident near the tomb, she does seem to have held on to Jesus for a while, and perhaps he had to push her gently away.

  12. Mary Magdalene wanted to cling to Jesus - to hold onto him. He knew his stay with her and the other apostles would be brief, so he didn't allow her to feel he would be able to stay there, with her. He didn't want to give her false hope, to be dashed at his ascension.

    Nor do I believe Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. She was an intelligent, educated woman whom Jesus had healed. She was a dedicated Apostle.

  13. Pat, agreed; she was an apostle along with the men.

  14. I believe this about Mary Magadelene as well - she was an apostle. The prostitution bit came about during later times, when it seemed far too unseemly for a woman to have been a disciple of Christ and the "tale" was reinterpreted.


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