I try, every morning when I do my devotions, to write down an observation from the scriptures I read. It’s usually something small; I barely have time to keep up with the reading plan, let alone the time to compose an essay. But I feel that writing a bit helps to ensure that I stay mentally engaged with what I’m reading. And of course, every time I write, I publish it somewhere, because it is impossible for me to write without an audience in mind. Usually it’s just a line or two, but today something bigger.
The verse I have before me is John 20:17 (NAS) —
Jesus 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.’ ”
This is the first conversation Jesus has with anyone, following his resurrection. He meets Mary at the tomb; once she recognizes him, she cries out and grabs him. Then he says the cryptic statement above. It’s always bothered me. What’s so special about Jesus’ situation—risen from the grave, but not risen unto heaven—that it’s inappropriate for Mary to cling to him? Is it because she’s a woman? Is it indecent? Is it because his resurrected body is… touchy? Later, he lets doubting Thomas put his fingers in his wounds. Is that different than Mary clinging to him, somehow? Did Jesus ascend to heaven real quick and come back before the Thomas incident?
Reading today, I was struck by a simpler solution. We have a tendency to make the words of scripture magic, thereby searching for the interpretation that is fraught with the most meaning. But what if we took the opposite tack: prefer the most mundane interpretation. There’s miracles enough in the plain meaning of the text.
So. Jesus is saying to Mary to stop clinging to him, because he’s not going anywhere. He hasn’t ascended into heaven, and he won’t. Not until he’s seen everybody. So Mary should do the brothers a favor and let them know that Jesus is anastasis, “resurrected,” and soon to be anabebka, “ascended.” So they should come see.
Ephesians 4:8–10 (NAS):
Therefore it says,
“When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives,
And He gave gifts to men.”
(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)
Incidentally, this kind of lends support to the argument that resurrection is insignificant without ascension.