Sunday, April 10, 2022

Chance the gardener and Jesus the not-gardener

John 20:1-18

I should confess that when I read about Mary mistaking Jesus for the Gardener, I immediately think of the movie, “Being There.” In that movie “Chance the gardener,” a simple-minded man is constantly mistaken for being, “Chauncy de Gardener,” a brilliant visionary who only speaks in deceptively simplistic koans. The twist to the movie, of course, is the very last scene when Chance does something that makes us re-evaluate him as potentially a Christ-figure.

I’m reading John 20 and “Being There” as almost opposites of one another. Chance the gardener is mistaken for a brilliant prophetic savior. Jesus the resurrected One is mistaken for the gardener. Then, when Jesus speaks and calls Mary by name, she recognizes him.

Below is my rough translation, exegesis and way too many stream-of-consciousness notes. Enjoy or enjoin, whichever makes you happy. As usual, the translation is in bold and my comments are in blue.

Bonus: I’ve got a couple of essays that you may find interesting. One was written for our local newspaper and is found here. I need to point out that I did not write the title to this Op Ed. The second essay was written for a different year’s lection, but it addresses addresses this text along with the Synoptic Easter stories. You can read it here. And finally, in 2022, I wrote a little reflection on Holy Week and Suffering that you can find here

Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων Μαρία  Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι 
οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. 
And on the first of the Sabbaths, Mary the Magdalene comes in the morning while it is yet dark to the tomb, and sees the stone that has been removed out of the tomb. 
ἔρχεται: PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons 
οὔσης: PAPart gsf, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
βλέπει:PAI 3s,βλέπω,1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye 
ἠρμένον: PerfPPart, asm, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: stones  … to bear away what has been raised, carry off  3a) to move from its place  …  3c) to remove 
1. “on the first of the Sabbaths”: If you google this phrase, prepare yourself for all manner of conspiracy-theorist venom.  The phrase is typically translated as “the first day of the week,” which – according to the venom – is an anti-Semitic means of hiding the Jewish roots of Christianity. A kindlier interpretation – which recognizes that lexicons and commentaries are all written from and shaped by some manner of perspective, and that someof those perspectives were indeed tainted with anti-Semitism – could be something like this: We may be looking at a colloquial expression that we can only make sense of by seeing its use in NT and contemporary sources, then guessing what the pattern is. So, e.g., when the Pharisee in Luke 18:12 says, “I fast twice a Sabbath,” it would seem that “Sabbath” can mean “week,” as opposed to this man boasting that he fasts twice in one day. If “Sabbath” can mean “week,” then interpreting our verse to say “on the first day of the week,” is not an attempt to erase the Sabbaths from the story, but to figure out the meaning of the colloquial expression and express it meaningfully today. 
2. Still, it is a curious phrase that shows up in every gospel account of the resurrection (Mk. 16:2, Mt.28:1, Lk.24:1). For a good time, compare Mk.16:1-2 with Matthew 28:1 and we might see that the reference to “the first day of the Sabbaths” was under interpretive construction even in the 1stcentury! 
3. Unlike other accounts, this one has Mary the Magdalene coming to the tomb alone. 
4. I often try to translate ἔρχομαι as “enters” rather than “comes” when it is in the middle voice. That works in this verse, but not really in the next, so I’ll leave it as “comes.” All of the verbs here and in 2a are present, but are interpreted as past in most translations because of the opening phrase of v.1.  

τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν 
ὃν ἐφίλει  Ἰησοῦς, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, ηραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου, καὶ 
οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 
Therefore she runs and comes to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved and says to them, “They removed the lord out of the tomb, and we have not known where they put him.”
τρέχει : PAI 3s, τρέχω, 1) to run  1a) of persons in haste 
ἔρχεταιPMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
ἐφίλει: IAI 3s, 1) to love   1a) to approve of   1b) to like  1c) sanction   1d) to treat affectionately or kindly, to welcome, befriend
λέγει: PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ηραν: AAI 3pl, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: … to bear away what has been raised …  to remove  
οἴδαμεν : PerfAI, 1p, εἴδω, to know
ἔθηκαν: AAI 3pl, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  
1. Why does Mary use the plural “we”? On whose behalf is she speaking? In the synoptic traditions, Mary is not alone but is with other women. 
2. The phrase “we have known” or “we have not known,” in the perfect tense, is used often in John’s gospel. I’m remembering it from c.9 – the story of the man born blind – when the religious leaders say, “We have not known where this man (Jesus) is from.” I’m not sure what the impact of the perfect tense should be. 
3. This is the first post-resurrection proclamation in John’s gospel. However, it is a testimony that draws erroneous conclusions from what Mary encountered at the tomb. It does raise the issue that testimony is more than simply ‘authenticity.’ There is some degree of ‘right and wrong’ regarding the testimony that is based on the authentic experience. 

 Ἐξῆλθεν οὖν  Πέτρος καὶ  ἄλλος μαθητής, καὶ ἤρχοντο εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον.
Therefore Peter and the other disciple went out and were going to the tomb. 
Ἐξῆλθεν : AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  1a) with mention of the place out of which one goes, or the  point from which he departs
ἤρχοντο : IMI 3p, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons 

ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ: καὶ  ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ 
Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 
And the two were running together; and the other disciple swiftly outran Peter and came first to the tomb, 
ἔτρεχον : IAI 3p, τρέχω, 1) to run  1a) of persons in haste 
προέδραμεν : AAI 3s, προτρέχω, 1) to run before, to outrun 
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
1. This race is a curious detail for John to describe, isn’t it? As it continues, they run, the Beloved Disciple (BD) is faster, but stops to stoop and look in to see the linen; Peter is slower, but rushes in directly to see the linen and the hanky; BD goes in and sees it all and believes; until this point, neither of them understood the writings about Jesus’ resurrection; then they both return to the others. 
2. Some biblical scholars make the race metaphorical to the difference of faith between Peter and BD. But, it seems to me that such speculation leads to unanswerable dead ends. Does DB have greater faith because he runs faster? Or, does Peter have greater faith because he goes in while DB stands outside and looks in? I don’t see these questions as answerable from the text itself.  Besides, it seems that, for John, neither of them has faith until at least v.8 below. 
3. Mary ‘runs’ to tell the disciples, then BD and Peter run. It seems to me that the references to running here point to their feeling of urgency. I’m not inclined to read anything more into it. 

5καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν. 
And stooping over he sees the linen lying, but yet he did not enter. 
παρακύψας : AAPart, nsm, παρακύπτω, 1) to stoop to a thing in order to look at it  2) to look at with head bowed forward
βλέπει : PAI 3s, βλέπω, 1) to see, discern, of the bodily eye  
κείμενα : PMPart, apn, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried  1c) of things that quietly cover some spot  1c1) of a city situated on a hill  
εἰσῆλθεν: AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
1. Bear with me on this one: I’ve always felt that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (v.2) is not a reference to “John,” as traditionally understood, but to “Lazarus,” who is described this way in John 11:3. (Not many people are willing to go there with me, but some are. Real people; real scholars!) If so, I would certainly understand why BD/Lazarus would stop outside of the tomb instead of entering it. I hear that being dead for four days in a tomb makes you react like that afterwards. (Just to be clear, I don’t know if “Lazarus” actually existed in real life or, if so, why the Synoptics missed the significant story of his death/resuscitation. I’m speaking from the perspective of the story in this gospel. I can’t speak to the reality of the 1stcentury more directly than that.) 

ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ 
μνημεῖον: καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, 
Then, Simon Peter arrived following him, and entered into the tomb; and observes the linens which are lying there, 
ἔρχεται : AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of  
ἀκολουθῶν : PAPart, nsm, ἀκολουθέω, 1) to follow one who precedes
εἰσῆλθεν : AAI 3s εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter 
θεωρεῖ : PAI 3s θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold 
κείμενα: PMPart apn, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried  1c) of things that quietly cover some spot  1c1) of a city situated on a hill  

7καὶ τὸ σουδάριον,  ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων 
κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον. 
And the handkerchief, which was on his head, is not lying with the linens but has been rolled up apart in one place. 
ἦν : IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
κείμενον : PMPart, asn, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried
ἐντετυλιγμένον : PerfPPart asn, ἐντυλίσσω, 1) to roll up, wrap together
1. Another detail that seems to be important to the narrator, but the importance of which escapes me at present. 
2. This detail of the hanky, however, is similar to the detail regarding Lazarus as he emerged from the tomb in Jn.11:44: ἐξῆλθεν ὁ τεθνηκὼς δεδεμένος τοὺς πόδας καὶ τὰς χεῖρας κειρίαις, καὶ ἡ ὄψις αὐτοῦ σουδαρίῳ περιεδέδετο. “The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a handkerchief around his face.”

8τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ  ἄλλος μαθητὴς  ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸμ νημεῖον, 
καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν: 
Therefore then the other disciple who arrived first also entered into the tomb, and saw and believed. 
εἰσῆλθεν : AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ἐλθὼν : AAPart nsm, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons 
εἶδεν : AAI 3s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes 
ἐπίστευσεν: AAI 3s, πιστεύω, 1) to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, place  confidence in  1a) of the thing believed
1. Is the BD, then, the first “believer”? It seems that he sees the signs (linen and hanky) and believes. 
2. In a very good article, “The Faith of the Beloved Disciple and the Community of John 20”, Brendan Byrne calls the BD’s faith “sign faith,” perhaps picking up on the “Book of Signs” that seem to comprise the early part of John’s gospel or simply John’s own use of the word “signs” and John’s attention to their significance. At any rate, says Byrne: “'Sign' faith is, of course, variously evaluated in John's Gospel.18 But where such faith is negatively rated (e.g., 2.23-24; 3.2-3; 4.45-48; 6.14-15; 7.3-7) the problem is not so much that a sign initiates the process of faith as that the preoccupation with the sign proceeds from purely human categories and needs in a way that obscures rather than serves the divine revelation in Jesus.”  (Journal for the Study of the New Testament, Feb., 1985, p.89) 
2. v.8 pertains to BD alone – all the nouns and verbs are singular. But, v.9 uses “they” and a plural verb to indicate BD and Peter did not (but later did) understand the writings about the resurrection before it happened. 
3. What is it about seeing things from the inside of the tomb and seeing them from the outside that makes the difference for BD? Does it have to do with the separate places of the linen and hanky? That makes no immediate sense to me as a 21stcentury reader, but that distinction seems to be how the story is structured. It seems like a lot of good Midrash and some very bad sermons could come out of this. 

9οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖαὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι. 
For as of yet they had not understood the writings that he is bound to rise out of the dead. 
ᾔδεισαν : PluAI 3p, εἴδω, to know
δεῖ: PAI 3s, δέω, 1) to bind tie, fasten  
ἀναστῆναι: AAInf, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up 
1. John sees the resurrection (among other things) as being a revelatory event. 
- After Jesus went into the temple and overturned tables, John says, “After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken” (2:22). 
- After Jesus enters into Jerusalem, John says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him” (12:16). 
2. In this story, Peter and the other disciple had not yet understood the writings about Jesus’ resurrection, but when the other disciples saw, he believed.
3. John does not say which “writings,” exactly, are the writings that say Jesus is bound to rise from the dead. Perhaps Ps. 16:10 (quoted in Acts 2:27)?    

10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὐτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί.
Then the disciples returned again to them. 
ἀπῆλθον : AAI 3p, ἀπέρχομαι, 1) to go away, depart
1. Curiously, “to them” (πρὸς αὐτοὺς) is a translation/interpretation challenge. I have translated is very literally, but it leaves the question open, “to whom does ‘them’ refer’?” Here are attempts to answer: KJV: “their own home” YLT: “their own friends” ESV: “their homes” NIV: “where they were staying” NRSV: “their homes.” There is not really an antecedent in this story, as far as I can tell.

11 Μαρία δὲ εἱστήκει πρὸς τῷ μνημείῳ ἔξω κλαίουσα. ὡς οὖν ἔκλαιεν 
παρέκυψεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 
But Mary had stayed at the tomb weeping outside. Then as she was weeping she stooped to look into the tomb,  
εἱστήκει : PluAI 3s, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set  
κλαίουσα: PAPart nsf, κλαίω, 1) to mourn, weep, lament 
ἔκλαιεν : IAI 3s, κλαίω, 1) to mourn, weep, lament
παρέκυψεν : AAI 3s, παρακύπτω, 1) to stoop to a thing in order to look at it 
1. In the description of the footrace between Peter and BD, the narrator has failed to say that Mary had returned. Before anyone wants to get all Da Vinci Codey on us and suggest that Mary herself is the BD, there is v.2 to contend with. 
2. Is there any significance in the difference between ‘stooping to look’ into the tomb (παρακύπτω, of the BD in v.5 and of Mary in v.11) and ‘entering’ into the tomb (ἔρχομαι, of Peter in v.6 and the BD in v.8)? 

12 καὶ θεωρεῖ δύο ἀγγέλους ἐν λευκοῖς καθεζομένους, ἕνα πρὸς τῇ κεφαλῇ 
καὶ ἕνα πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, ὅπου ἔκειτο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 
And beholds two angels who are sitting in white garments, one to the head and one to the feet, where the body of Jesus was lying. 
θεωρεῖ : PAI 3s, θεωρέω 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold 
καθεζομένους: PMPart, apm, καθέζομαι, 1) to sit down, seat one's self, sit 
ἔκειτο : IMI 3s, κεῖμαι, 1) to lie  1a) of an infant  1b) of one buried
1. This is story-telling, so John does not have to tell us why Peter and BD did not see these two angels when they were in the tomb. Of course, that won’t stop us from wondering; only from answering. 
2. Dear John: This would have been a good place for the pluperfect tense, “where the body of Jesus had been lying.” But, if you want to use the imperfect tense, “was lying,” that’s your business. Sincerely, Curious Reader. 

13 καὶ λέγουσιναὐτῇ ἐκεῖνοι, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι ηραν τὸν 
κύριόν μου, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 
And they say to her, Woman, why are you crying? She says to them “They removed my lord and I have not known where they put him.” 
λέγουσιν: PAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κλαίεις: PAI 2s, κλαίω, 1) to mourn, weep, lament
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ηραν : AAI 3pl, αἴρω, 1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: … to bear away what has been raised …  to remove  
οἶδα : PerfAI 1s, εἴδω, to know
ἔθηκαν: AAI 3pl, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  
1. The use of the perfect in “I have not known” is kind of odd to my 21stcentury ears, but it is consistent with the tense of v.2 and throughout the gospel. In v.2 Mary uses the plural “we have not known” instead of the singular. 
2. “Woman, why are you crying?” Jesus will repeat this question. 
3. Mary’s response indicates that whatever BD “believed” in v.8, it was not a shared group experience, at least not for her. She is still seeing “signs” and even greater signs than BD and Peter (if you think 2 live angels are better than a linen and hanky), and yet she still thinks Jesus’ body has been moved. 

14ταῦτα εἰποῦσα ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα, καὶ 
οὐκ ᾔδει ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν. 
Having said these things she turned around into the back and beholds Jesus who has been standing, and she had not known that he is Jesus. 
εἰποῦσα : AAPart nsf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐστράφη : API 3s, στρέφω, 1) to turn, turn around 
θεωρεῖ : PAI 3s, θεωρέω, 1) to be a spectator, look at, behold
ἑστῶτα: PerfAPart asm, ἵστημι, 1) to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set 
ᾔδει : PluAI 3s, εἴδω, to know
ἐστινεἰμί, PAI 3s, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
1. The tenses – though awkward in my rough translation – seem important to John, so I am leaving them in order in their unpolished form. 
2. This is the 3rdreference to Mary “not having known,” the first two of which were by her own admission. Quite different from the BD who sees and believes. 

15 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; τίνα ζητεῖς; ἐκείνη δοκοῦσα ὅτι  
κηπουρός ἐστιν λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ ἐβάστασας αὐτόν, εἰπέ μοι ποῦ 
ἔθηκας αὐτόν, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἀρῶ. 
Jesus says to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you seeking?” She – supposing that he is the gardener – says to him, “Lord, if you carried him off, tell me where you put him, and I will remove him. 
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
κλαίεις: PAI 2s, κλαίω, 1) to mourn, weep, lament
ζητεῖς: PAI 2s, ζητέω, 1) to seek in order to find
δοκοῦσα : PAPart, nsf, οκέω, 1) to be of opinion, think, suppose 
ἐστινεἰμί, PAI 3s, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present 
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἐβάστασας : AAI 2s, βαστάζω, 1) to take up with the hands  … to bear away, carry off 
εἰπέ : AAImpv2s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἔθηκας : AAI 2s, τίθημι, 1) to set, put, place  1a) to place or lay  1b) to put down, lay down  
ἀρῶ: FAI 1s, αἴρω,1) to raise up, elevate, lift up  1a) to raise from the ground, take up: … to bear away what has been raised …  to remove 
1. I need to come clean on this. I’d love to pick up more on this question, “Woman, why are you crying?” and explore its relation to faith. But, I don’t want to fall into the old and tired trap of always depicting women as the weepy emotional types, whereas the guys “see and understand the cryptic writings.” Still, there is something fully human about Mary’s misery here that I think touches on aspects of faith that often lie beyond rational thinking. (One reason I’ve often had trouble with Josh McDowell-type “apologetics evangelism” is that it assumes that people are one-dimensional calculators.) 
2. With the caveat above, “Woman why are you crying?” remains an arresting question, showing the disconnect between one’s experience and the good news of the resurrection. I wonder how many of my own tears fall into this caveat. 
3. “Supposing him to be the gardener …” what a great piece of storytelling. I love the ingenuity behind the supposition that when Jesus arose, after removing his linens he walked out of the tomb naked, so he grabbed the gardener’s garments of the clothesline to cover himself up. Ingenious, completely speculative, and now unforgettable. 

16 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μαριάμ. στραφεῖσα ἐκείνη λέγει αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστί, 
Ραββουνι {ὃ λέγεταιΔιδάσκαλε}. 
Jesus says to her, “Mary.” Having turned she says to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni” (which is to say, ‘Teacher.’)
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
στραφεῖσα : APPart, nsf, , στρέφω, 1) to turn, turn around 
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
λέγεται: PPI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. What an empty tomb, two angels, folded linens, and a separated wrapped up hanky could not do, the call of one’s name does. This is a beautiful moment. 
2. Seems a curious time to introduce the term “Rabbouni.” The curiousity of the term and the detail of the story adds a tone of authenticity to it, IMHO. 

17 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μή μου ἅπτου, οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν πατέρα: 
πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς, Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν. 
Jesus says to her, “Do not hold me, for 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 and my God and your God.” 
λέγει : PAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
ἅπτου: PMImpv 2s, ἅπτω, 1) to fasten to, adhere to  1a) to fasten fire to a thing, kindle, set of fire 
ἀναβέβηκα : PerfAI 1s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up
πορεύου : PMImpv 2s, πορεύομαι,1) to lead over, carry over, transfer  1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered
εἰπὲ : AAImpv 2s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
Ἀναβαίνω : PAI 1s, ἀναβαίνω, 1) ascend  1a) to go up
1. I have read that the aspect of a present imperative refers to an ongoing command, as opposed to a one-and-done command. If that means something for this verse, the command “do not hold me” (ἅπτου) might be something like “do not keep holding onto me.” If that’s the case, then the present command “keep going to my brothers” would refer less to Mary’s messaging and more to the ongoing communication to others. Maybe?  
2. The command not to keep holding Jesus but to go back to the others seems necessary if one imagines oneself in this moment. How hard it must be to let go and go back, when the alternatives of staying right there or dragging Jesus along would seem much more convincing. 

18 ἔρχεται Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἀγγέλλουσα τοῖς μαθηταῖς ὅτι Ἑώρακα 
τὸν κύριον, καὶ ταῦτα εἶπεναὐτῇ. 
Mary the Magdalene goes announcing to the disciples “I have seen the lord,” and the things he said to her. 
ἔρχεται : PMI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  1a) of persons 
ἀγγέλλουσα : PAPart nsf, 
Ἑώρακα : PerfAI 1s, ὁράω, 1) to see with the eyes  2) to see with the mind, to perceive, know
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, , λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
1. Byrne makes the point that Mary’s faith is like that of Thomas and the rest of the disciples, except BD. He argues that the difference between BD and the others is that BD’s act of ‘seeing the signs and believing’ as opposed to Mary, Thomas, etc. ‘seeing Jesus and believing,’ makes BD more like John’s readers, who must believe without seeing (being a couple of generations removed from Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection appearances.)


  1. I am just skimming this, waiting to digest it fully in the morning.

    But, YES. to Lazarus. Me too!

  2. Regarding verse 16, someone, somewhere mentioned that this is connected to John 13, in which Jesus says, "You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am," as part of his argument in favor of Peter allowing Jesus to wash his feet. It's about discipleship...?

  3. thanks for the morning thought before I head off to a missional lectio group in Lexington. Ditto on Lazarus. And a wonderful digression that may offer some food for thought, and I mean, your observation that since Mary perceives him as a gardner then he must have had a costume change. Leaves me curious about practice in the ancient world. Is the 'gardner guise' no more than expediency to the naked resurrected One? Did he filch the gardeners togs? Does he appear to Mary this way but appear differently to others (on the road, in the room, by the lake etc.)? How does he manage without a dresser and who maintains the wardrobe? Your brief comment is, in my view, quite thought provoking. thanks

  4. Pat: That's a nice connection between "Rabbouni" of 20:16 and "teacher" of 13:13-14, which I had not seen before. I'm so accustomed to Mark's way of having Jesus downplay other titles for "Son of Man." John 13 suggests that all of the other titles are right enough, as long as we accept that this 'Lord and teacher' is found kneeling down and washing feet. Hmm...

  5. Hey, it's my alter-ego Mark T. Davis! Great to hear from you.

  6. I have a different take on Mary and her failure to recognize Jesus. First her Lord and Teacher has just been crucified 2 days earlier; as if that isn't enough, she comes early to find the tomb empty (body stolen?). Then she sees 2 angelic creatures sitting in the tomb-who wouldn't be a little discombobulated (sp?)Mary goes to the tomb not expecting to see Jesus walking around; she expects to find a dead body: "Where have you laid him?" So to see someone else walking around a garden in the early morning hours, she assumes it must be the gardener. I don't think she even looked at Jesus until he called her name. Only then does she really "see" who is calling her. (I like the paradox Being There, mistaking(!) Chance for a prophet and Jesus for a gardener-perfect!) Richard from Korea.

  7. banburycrs: Thanks for the note. I appreciate how you are delving into Mary's "state of mind" as the story allows it. I think the curious part is v. 14: "Having said these things she turned around into the back and beholds Jesus who has been standing, and she had not known that he is Jesus." To "behold" and not to "know" is an odd relationship. It does bring to mind many of the studies of the human mind like "The Invisible Gorilla." Sometimes our expectations determine our perceptions.
    Thanks again for your comments.

  8. The Lectionary Commentary suggests Mary M is the Beloved Disciple! More food for thought...

  9. The Lectionary Commentary suggests Mary M is the Beloved Disciple! More food for thought...

  10. Mark, Thank you for the post. I agree with you about Lazarus as the beloved disciple. I wonder if he did not go into the tomb out of deference to Peter's authority ... The BD understands because he loves and needs not enter the tomb. Maybe being loved and loving allows the BD to come to conclusions much more quickly. Of course, the younger BD might just be poking fun and the older, slower Peter.
    As per Mary not recognizing Jesus; maybe Jesus' looks were perfected in his glorified state. She might have recognized the voice, but not the look. I am hoping that given the opportunity my wrinkles, age spots and baldness won't follow me in the resurrection of the flesh.

  11. Hi Pierre, Always informative to hear from you. It's always been curious to me how Lazarus plays such a pivotal role in the Gospel of John and is not mentioned at all in the synoptics. There's some curious storytelling going on in that comparison.
    I like to attribute Mary's lack of recognition to her seeing Jesus through a veil of tears. I know that is my own speculation, but it speaks powerfully to me.

  12. Gary,

    I have a number of quarrels with your post. The first is that raising Lazarus is not the only story of Jesus raising someone from the dead, yet you are acting as if it were by implying as if Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul are somehow amiss for not mentioning THIS raising. Second, you are ignoring the common belief that Paul wrote his letters long before any of the gospel accounts were written and that John was probably the latest of the four gospels. The odd one out here is John, not everybody else. And the one truly important resurrection story is the story of Jesus' resurrection, to which all of the gospels writers and Paul give witness.

    It is certainly a legitimate question to ask why John's account of Jesus raising Lazarus is so central to his gospel and absent elsewhere. But, it seems to me that the question is a question about John, John's theology, and John's context, not everyone else.

  13. What John's invention of the Lazarus "raising" is that the authors of the Gospels were willing to invent historical scenes for the theological benefits. Matthew invented guards at the tomb and a baby massacre in Bethlehem. Luke invented a world wide census that never took place.

    So we need to take the blinders off of our eyes (and our brains) and ask: If these Christian authors were willing to make up other historical events, then how do we know that the Empty Tomb and the post-death appearances of Jesus were not some other Christian's invention!

  14. I believe that the death and resurrection of Christ is a factual event, but there are differences between fact and truth, and the ancient historical writers understood this. Even if it wasn't factual that some classical hero had exhorted his troops with a fiery speech before a battle, or provided an inspirational soliloquy with his dying breath, these things should have happened. To the ancient historian, these utterances were true, and didn't need to be factual. I think the raising of Lazarus is true, in that it's the hinge of John's Gospel, and it's a foreshadowing of Christ's resurrection, but it doesn't really need to be factual. The Resurrection is the greatest truth of the Christian community, and whether it's factual or not, it's true.

  15. I always come away from reading your blog with something new. Thank you for your scholarship and thoughtfulness. I love your humor sprinkled throughout your commentary this week and in the LA Times article. A bit of lightness while maintaining and respecting the deep meaning of text and faith. After all there must have been laughter because ... He is risen. My favorite sentence is "What an empty tomb, two angels, folded linens, and a separated wrapped up hanky could not do, the call of one’s name does. This is a beautiful moment." Indeed. As they say, "That'll preach." Wishing you a beautiful Easter and joyful laughter.

  16. Re: Mary's non-recognition of Jesus -- Mary has been weeping according to the text. I can imagine that her nose is running, tears continue to well up in her eyes, some some hair is hanging in her face (she has been running!). Add to this the fact that, as someone else has mentioned, we have trouble seeing what we don't expect, and it makes very human sense that she doesn't recognize Jesus. It is the way he says her voice that catches her attention; the sheep know the shepherd's voice! Also, re: the Beloved Disciple -- I find it very odd that "the sons of Zebedee" is mentioned once in John's gospel and the individual brothers are not named at all, even though, according to the other gospel writers, James and John made up two thirds of the inner circle --seems like a snub. That the "Beloved Disciple" is a code name for John makes more sense to me, but I am open to the possibility that it was Lazarus (although calling him "a certain man" 11:1 instead of the BD is unexpected).

    1. Hi Christine,
      I once preached an Easter sermon entitled, "Seeing Jesus through a veil of tears." Whether it had anything to do with Mary's recognition of Jesus or not, I still find this idea of a veil of tears to be an apt description of how we encounter new life sometimes.
      Thanks for your note.

    2. Maybe Mary didn't recognize Jesus because he was in a ghostly form.

  17. It's always a problem to approach ancient writings with 21st century eyes and assumptions about what is acceptable practice in communicating a truth as the ancients understood it. 21st century historical accuracy was never an issue for these writers. The need for that says more about us than them.


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