Don’t cling to me now my love, I’ve given your Dad the down payment to seal our engagement, I’ll be back for you in about a year—by my reckoning—after I’ve prepared our home. I’ll be back sweetheart, don’t fret. You’ll never be without me again. I love you.
A concise commentary on John 20:1-18
20:1“Now on the first day of the week (Yom Rishon) Miryam—Mary—Magdala came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb.”
This opening statement brings up the issue of time frame relative to John’s description of Miryam’s—Mary’s--visit to the tomb. The other gospel writers’ record Miryam as having gone to the tomb with a group of women and reference the time as dawn or first light. This is only problematic if Miryam went to the tomb once: we see however both from John’s narrative and from the details given by the other gospel writers’ that Miryam traveled to the tomb several times. It has also been suggested that she may have arrived in the dark and left to tell of what she had found, as the sun rose: in either case the fact that it was still dark in the early hours when Miryam first visited the tomb does not invalidate the factual relevance of this record.
In stark contrast to the raising of Lazarus, the stone of Yeshua’s tomb had already been rolled away.
20:2 “So she ran and came to Shimon Kefa—Simon Peter—and to the other disciple whom Yeshua—Jesus—loved, and said to them, ‘they have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”
Miryam ran, just as we would if we were to find a deceased loved one’s body missing. In spite of Kefa’s—Peter’s--previous denial of Yeshua he was still considered a leader among the Talmidim—disciples—alongside John. This should not surprise us given that the other Talmidim also fled when Yeshua was captured. None of the Talmidim can claim to have been fearless in the face of calamity.
Miryam presumes a group of people—probably men—have taken Yeshua’s body. She also confirms the fact that other women must have arrived at the tomb after she did when she says, “we do not know where they have taken Him.” It is hard to determine whom she may have been referring to as having taken Yeshua away. Did she think the religious leaders had taken him? This is unlikely because the religious leaders were looking to keep His body inside the tomb as proof that He was no more or less human than any other rabbi or zealot Messianic want-to-be. Did she think that some of the other disciples had taken Him? Again, unlikely, they were all hiding from the authorities: the text seems to suggest that they were staying indoors, with the exception of Kefa and Yochanan. Perhaps Miryam suspected that grave robbers had taken Him? This is a possibility given the expensive ointments used to cover the smell of the dead and the fact that being Joseph’s tomb it was probably located among other tombs of the well-to-do. We cannot know for certain. What we do know is that Miryam did not yet believe Yeshua had raised from the dead.
20:3-5 “So Kefa and the other talmud went forth, and they were going to the tomb. 4 The two were running together; and the other talmud ran ahead faster than Kefa and came to the tomb first; 5 and stooping and looking in, he saw the linen wrappings lying there; but he did not go in.”
They raced to see if what Miryam had said was true. For most men the excited and emotional relaying of the facts by a woman may have been perceived as dramatic at best and delusional at worst. Also, the testimony of women was not considered valid at that time among religious leaders and other authorities.
Yochanan, the writer of this gospel clearly values Kefa’s friendship, as testified to in the loving record of events narrated throughout his book: there is also a sense of competition between them that ads humor and action to the account. Yochanan is honest enough to record his own hesitation at the mouth of the tomb. From his position he sees only the grave clothes.
20:6-7 “And so Shimon Kefa also came, following him, and entered the tomb; and he saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the face-cloth which had been on His head, not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.”
Shimon, as per usual, has all the chuztpa of an excitable school boy and runs on past the stopped Yochanan and into the tomb. From his passionate position he sees both the grave clothes and the head veil neatly folded at each end of the stone bench where Yeshua once lay. This is evidence of a methodical undressing upon waking up from sleep—death. This is clearly not a grave robbery. Yeshua, unlike Lazarus, was not commanded to rise, He simply rose.
20:8-10 “So the other talmud who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed. 9 For as yet they did not understand the Scripture; that He must rise again from the dead. 10 So the Talmidim went away again to their own homes.”
Encouraged inwardly by Kefa’s passion, Yochanan also enters the tomb. Seeing the evidence, he believes. But what is it that he believes? The text goes on to say that they did not yet understand from Scripture that Yeshua must raise from the dead. Therefore Yochanan cannot have believed in Yeshua’s resurrection at this point. It seems most likely that this is an observation of his belief in Miryam’s account of events.
Following this the two Talmidim return home to continue sitting shiva—seven days of grieving—with the other Talmidim and the family of Yeshua.
20:11-12 “But Miryam was standing outside the tomb wailing; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she saw two messengers in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Yeshua had been lying.”
It is interesting to note that the other gospel accounts refer to either a singular angel or a man at the tomb. This can be explained by event chronology, narrative selection and the differing perspectives and information available to the writers. It may also be explained by theorizing a representation of the unity of G-d similar to that of G-d’s visit to Abraham in Genesis 18.
It is also interesting to note that Yochanan’s account gives us a beautiful view of the mercy seat of G-d. It is known that the Ark of the Covenant was not present in the Holy of Holies at this time in Israel’s history, that only the cap stone lay at the center of the Holy of Holies—an obvious allusion to Messiah as the cap or foundation stone. This is relevant because G-d’s mercy would now be manifest among all human kind in the resurrection power of His Son Yeshua. The two messengers or angels seated one at each end of where Yeshua had lay mirror the two Cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant, between whom lay the mercy seat of G-d. Yeshua had become the door through which all humanity might receive mercy. In Messiah we can now enter into the Holy of Holies situated in the heavens. A place for which the earthly temple was simply a representation. (For additional study read the book of Hebrews.)
20:13 “And they said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’”
Both the messengers and Yeshua ask Miryam the same question, “why are you weeping?” I don’t see this as an incredulous or disciplinary question, they are simply trying to help Miryam understand her own deep grief and the hope that awaits her at the end of her tears.
20:14 “When she had said this, she turned around and saw Yeshua standing there, and did not know that it was Yeshua.”
Why did Miryam not recognize Yeshua? After all, the text says she looked at Him or saw Him. Some suggest that the scarring from His crucifixion may have distorted His appearance, others say that it was simply the transformed nature of His body that caused Him to appear different. It is difficult to know for sure. What we must be certain of is that the Scripture refers to His resurrection body and not only to His resurrection spirit. Miryam and later Thomas both touch Yeshua physically. It seems that He has a new body that is both tangible and intangible but He is not simply a spirit being as the gnostic heresy attempts to suggest.
20:15 “Yeshua said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ 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.’
Yeshua ads the phrase, “whom are you seeking.” It seems that He wants to remind Miryam why she is weeping and to refocus her attention onto Himself. Perhaps it is her own grief that prevents her seeing Him for who He really is, after all her response affirms the fact that she still does not believe it possible that G-d has raised Him from the dead. Messiah often asks questions of us in order to help us journey past our own self-deception.
20:16 “Yeshua said to her, ‘Miryam!’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic/Hebrew, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means, Teacher).”
Last night while we ate the Shabbos meal together with of congregation the room was filled with conversation, a veritable cacophony of sound. Apparently my youngest daughter had been calling out to me saying, “Dad…Dad…Dad…Dad…” I had not heard her for what was approximately 20-30 seconds, finally she called, “Abba,” I turned to her instantly at the sound of what I recognized to be my true title, she scowled and said, “I’ve been trying to get your attention for ages!” I believe something similar has happened here to Miryam. The confusing miasma of emotion, environment and self-deception is severed by the voice of love calling her name, naming her identity as a child of G-d.
Miryam, overwhelmed by the epiphany of the resurrected Messiah—her dearly loved friend and teacher—calls out, “Rabboni,” which means my teacher. It is also a derivative of the rabbinical Hebrew phrase “Ribbono shel Olam”—Teacher of the world—which refers to G-d Himself. Perhaps Miryam is the first to begin to understand that Yeshua is G-d with us?
20:17-18 “Yeshua said to her, ‘Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, “I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”’18 Miryam Magdala came, announcing to the Talmidim, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and that He had said these things to her.”
Yeshua comforts Miryam with the words, “stop clinging to Me.” Perhaps best read as, “you don’t have to hold onto me now—I’m going to stay resurrected, you’re not going to lose me ever again.” He is preparing her for the future, when He will return to the Father and impart the Ruach ha-Kodesh—Holy Spirit—to be with her always. He also seems to be inferring that she will get another opportunity to hold Him. He sends her—after all we are to be sent ones—to His Talmidim whom He calls His brother’s—relatives—affirming His role as the first of many brothers and sisters born to the Kingdom.
So why did Yeshua appear first to Miryam? She was an ex-prostitute, had been demon possessed and is a woman to boot, in a society that valued the testimony of men above women. She is a poor logical choice for the successful spread of a new religious movement of Jews known as--Ha-derach—The Way. She is perhaps the weakest of candidates.
Clearly G-d chooses the weak to shame the strong. The gospel is the very antithesis to human logic and practicality. It directly opposes the notion that only the strong survive. Yeshua—probably chuckling to Himself a little at the arrogance of men—sends this humble, passionate, loving and desperate woman to a bunch of doubting men, her job, to tell them about the greatest miracle to ever have taken place in all of human history. A woman folks, the glory of creation, brings glory to the Son and in turn to the Father.
“Don’t cling to me now,” He says. Perhaps it is true as some have suggested, that this is an allegory for the second coming and the wedding feast of the Lamb. Miryam representing the bride of Messiah:
“Don’t cling to me now my love, I’ve given your Dad the down payment to seal our engagement, I’ll be back for you in about a year—by my reckoning—after I’ve prepared our home. I’ll be back sweetheart, don’t fret. You’ll never be without me again. I love you.”
Read that last statement again, only this time place your name where it says “my love” and “sweetheart”: this is Yeshua’s word to you.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.