Wednesday, March 18, 2009

John 20:11-18

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?"

"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?"

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means "Teacher").

17 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.' "

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

Dig Deeper

Many years ago when my wife and I were newly married, she had a nursing job which required her to work a ridiculous amount of hours during a week and included shifts during which if someone on the next shift didn’t come in, she would be required to stay on and continue working until they could get someone else to come in. It became routine for that to happen and for her to have to work shifts of 16-18 hours. Needless to say, she would be quite tired at the end of these shifts and still had to make a drive home that was nearly an hour. On one morning, she was supposed to be home very early in the morning but I didn’t think too much of it when she wasn’t yet home by mid-morning. As the day wore on, however, I began to get more and more concerned. By about 10:00 AM I called her job only to find out that she had left over three hours ago. Now I was worried. It wasn’t unheard of for her to stop at the grocery store or something like that, but she should have definitely been home by now. This was in the days before we had cell phones so there was no way to try to call her. By the afternoon I was beyond worry and began thinking the worst. Yet, I felt so hopeless because there was just so little that I could do. Finally, about three in the afternoon, the phone rang and I heard her voice on the other end. I immediately knew it was her and I had such a feeling of relief that came over me that it is difficult to describe. Just hearing her voice told me that everything was going to be alright. There was no better sound in the world at that moment than being reassured by the sound of her voice. For those that are wondering what happened, it turns out that she was so tired that when she got down to the car in the hospital parking lot, she fell asleep and slept for about seven hours seated behind the steering wheel.

In John 10:3-4, Jesus declared that "the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice." As John continues describing the swirl of events on the Sunday following his death, the first day of the new creation, he brings us to the lonely isolation of Mary who has evidently stayed at the tomb by herself, weeping and mourning for the death of her beloved teacher, but driven even further into that grief by the mysterious disappearance of his body. All of her emotions are twisted up in a mass of worry, grief, confusion, and loss of control. That is all about to change instantly as the very sound of Jesus’ voice calling her name reassures her that everything is going to be alright.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells what has become one of his most beloved parables. It is an account of a son who has rejected his father’s love, presence, and will. By the standards of Jesus’ day, the son completely shames his father and his entire family and strikes out on his own, seeking his own will. After a time, things go badly and then go from bad to worse. The young man decides that he will return home to get a job from his father, but on the way, he is enveloped by his father who lovingly restores him to his status as his son. The son that was once estranged from his father by his own choices and behavior is fully restored to the family, not because anything that the son has done but solely out of the love of the father for his son.

Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus had spoke to the people of Israel about his Father. He had come from his Father, did the will of his Father, spoke the words of his Father, and was soon returning to his Father. It was unusual and would have been offensive for Jews to hear someone speak of God not as "the Father" or "our Father" but as "my Father." It was, after all, Exodus 4:22 which proclaimed Israel as god’s firstborn son. Later in the Old Testament, the Psalmist declared that "He will call out to me, 'You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior.' And I will appoint him to be my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure" (Ps. 89:26-29). What the Jews did not envision is that this passage would literally be fulfilled by one person rather than the nation of Israel as a whole. What Jesus taught, as is evidenced by his declaration in 15:1 that he was the true vine, was that only he could fulfill the covenant as God’s Son. He was the Son of God and his throne was established forever in that empty tomb.

Mary, of course, had no idea of all of this as she stood at the tomb crying. She looks into the tomb and sees two angels (they are dressed in white as angels often are depicted in the Bible: Dan. 10:5-6; Ezek. 9:2; Rev. 15:6) who ask her why she’s crying. The current source of her grief, says Mary is not just that Jesus is dead but that his body appears to be missing. As she turns around, she sees what she thinks is just an ordinary man, demonstrating that, despite some incredible characteristics, the resurrection body is no different in appearance from any other. The man repeats the question of the angels and adds who she is looking for. Perhaps that’s her whole problem she is not looking for a "who" but is looking for a "what," a body. The "who" that she should be looking for is right there in front of her.

Mary thinks that this man is a gardener. Although she is wrong, it makes sense on one level because who else would be in the garden that early? On another level, though, I believe that John wants us to see that she is absolutely correct. This is one more example of John including the irony of someone saying something that is true beyond their ability to understand it at the time. As Mary stands in the garden of the new creation, she is looking at the gardener. He is the new Adam, the one charged with bringing order from the chaos of the old creation. He is the true Adam that will never be expelled from the Garden.

All Mary wants to know, though, is if this man knows where the body is. In her grief, she doesn’t even stop to think of the implausibility of going to get the body by herself. The New Testament writers never explain exactly why, but it seems that the resurrection body, although the same but glorified body, is not exactly the same in appearance (we’ll leaves thoughts as to why that is for another time). It’s at that moment that the Shepherd calls the name of one of his sheep. We’re not sure what about him calling her name allowed her to recognize who he was, but Jesus had promised that the sheep would know his voice and she surely has. Her relief and affection explode as she lovingly and respectfully calls out to him as her teacher. She doesn’t yet fully understand the depth of who she is, but she does the best with what she knows.

Jesus’ response to Mary’s joy seems a bit confusing and has puzzled commentators over the years. Most commentators seem to agree on one thing, though, and that is that rather than the TNIV’s "do not hold on to me," Jesus’ words are better understood as something like "don’t cling to me." He seems to be telling her that a radical change has occurred in their relationship. Before his death, the disciples followed Jesus everywhere and clung to him as their counselor and their support. They will still be seeing him for a little while but not in that way anymore. Yet he has not yet ascended to the Father, so the spiritual relationship with him through the Spirit has not yet come either. This is a strange transition period in which they will not be able to cling to him as they had, but they do not yet have the relationship with him that they will. Perhaps Mary thought that this is how Jesus would come to them and dwell with them forever and she is not about to let him go. She seems determined not to lose him a second time, but she is yet to grasp the spiritual nature of the future relationship between Jesus and his disciples.

One thing is clear in all of this, however. Something has changed. Jesus tells Mary to go to his brothers and tell them that he is ascending to "my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." Clearly Jesus is not referring to his birth half-brothers, but rather to his disciples. They are now brothers rather than just friends. The Father is no longer just his Father, He is their Father. The disciples have been invited into the family of God just as Jesus promised them (John 14:1-3). He has prepared a place for them and they are now welcome into the family. They can now know the Father as Jesus knows him and have the intimate type of relationship with the Father that Jesus does. Jesus became the prodigal son so that those who would enter into his life and have faith in his life would be able to return to the father and be welcomed back into the family. Those who believe in him can now experience the words of Luke 15 for ourselves, "’Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’" The long exile between man and God is over. A way back to His house has been made.

Devotional Thought

When was the last time you spent some time thinking about what it really means to be part of God’s family and the role that Jesus had in making that happen? When is the last time you took some special time in prayer to give praise and glory to God for brining you into His family solely on the basis of His grace and mercy?

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