The Resurrection and Freedom


“Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher.
Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me,
for I have not yet ascended to the Father.
But go to my brothers and tell them,
‘I am going to my Father and your Father,
to my God and your God.’”
Mary went and announced to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and then reported what he had told her.” (John 20:16-20)

I have always loved Mary Magdalene the most (after Jesus) of all the persons in the Gospel–for her devotion to and intimacy with Christ, and for the Gospels’ human and realistic portrayal of her strengths and limits as a woman with great passion for Christ. In today’s reading, Mary encounters the risen Lord, and yet is immediately met with a mixture of intimate reception and seeming distancing by Jesus. On the one hand, the report of how Jesus speaks her name, “Mary!”, conveys in its simplicity a real knowing, where speaking the name also stands in for everything else Jesus knows about Mary’s long and complicated history. One simple word, Mary, carries with it a whole lifetime of being known–as we are each known intimately and fully by God.

On the other hand, Jesus tells Mary not to hold onto him, since he has not yet ascended. Instead, he missions her to go and to do the work of apostleship. In nearly every Resurrection encounter, Jesus heals or forgives, and then missions: in the Upper Room, with Peter, over and over again the energy for mission follows forgiveness and healing. The Resurrection already points to Pentecost. With Mary, though, a pronounced element of their interrelation is also Jesus’ asserting his need for freedom. His care and tenderness for Mary is not in question, but he has work to do, and so does she. And so he tells her not to hold onto him in the same way that she once knew him, as Teacher, and instead to grant him the freedom that he needs to go and take his next steps, just as he also grants the freedom to her to go and to take hers.

Freedom is so essential to friendship–even friendship with the Lord. If we truly love others, we have to be willing to let them go. So Mary lets go of Jesus, in a way. But in another way, Mary’s relationship to Jesus deepens with the Resurrection. As Jesus describes it, she is to go and undertake her own work for the person who is “my father and your father, my God and your God.” Jesus reminds her that they share between the two of them the same God. Although Mary is a woman, and not herself divine as Jesus is, they are both brother and sister, both children to the same Father. Jesus takes his own freedom for himself and so also offers her freedom, too, of knowing her own full status before the Creator, as both child and friend.

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