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April 17, 2017

Why Did The Lord Forbid Mary Magdalene From Touching Him After His Resurrection?

By St. John Chrysostom

(Homily 86 on the Gospel of John)

John 20:17 - "Jesus said to her, 'Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto My Father.'"

Some assert, that she asked for spiritual grace, because she had heard Him when with the disciples say, "If I go to the Father, I will ask Him, and He shall give you another Comforter." But how could she who was not present with the disciples have heard this? Besides, such an imagination is far from the meaning here. And how should she ask, when He had not yet gone to the Father? What then is the sense? I think that she wished still to converse with Him as before, and that in her joy she perceived nothing great in Him, although He had become far more excellent in the Flesh. To lead her therefore from this idea, and that she might speak to Him with much awe, (for neither with the disciples does He henceforth appear so familiar as before,) He raises her thoughts, that she should give more reverent heed to Him.

To have said, "Approach Me not as you did before, for matters are not in the same state, nor shall I henceforth be with you in the same way," would have been harsh and high-sounding; but the saying, "I am not yet ascended to the Father," though not painful to hear, was the saying of One declaring the same thing. For by saying, "I am not yet ascended," He shows that He hastes and presses there; and that it was not meet that One about to depart there, and no longer to converse with men, should be looked on with the same feelings as before. And the sequel shows that this is the case. "Go and say unto the brethren, that I go unto My Father, and your Father, unto My God and your God."

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on the Gospel of John)

John 20:17 - "Jesus said to her, 'Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto My Father.'"

The meaning of this saying is not easily understood by the vulgar, for a mystery underlies it; but we must probe it for our advantage. For the Lord will vouchsafe unto us the knowledge of His own words. For He repulses the woman as she was running up to Him, and though she longed to embrace His Feet, He suffered her not; and, in explanation of His reason for so doing, said: "For I am not yet ascended unto My Father." We must inquire into the meaning of this saying. For what if He were not yet ascended to His Father? How could this reason suffice to render it improper for those that loved Him to touch His holy Body? Would it not be blameworthy for any one to imagine that the Lord shrank from the pollution of the touch, and thus spake that He might be pure when He ascended to the Father in heaven? Would not such a man stand convicted of great folly and madness? For the Nature of God can never be polluted. For just as the light of the sun's ray, when it strikes upon a dunghill or any other earthly impurities, suffers no stain -- for it remains as it is, that is, undefiled, and partakes in no degree of the ill odor of the objects that it encounters -- even so the all-holy Nature of God can never admit of the blemish of defilement. What, then, is the reason why Mary was prevented from touching Him, when she drew near and yearned so to do? What can the Lord mean when He says: "For I am not yet ascended unto My Father?" We must investigate this according to the best of our ability. We say, therefore, that the reasons for our Savior's sojourn amongst us were manifold and diverse, but this one the principal of all, which is indicated in His own words: "For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Therefore, before the saving Cross and the Resurrection from the dead, while as yet His providential scheme had not received its appropriate fulfillment, He mingled both with the just and the unjust, and ate with publicans and sinners, and allowed any that so willed to come to Him and touch His holy Body, that He might sanctify all men and call them to a knowledge of the truth, and might bring back to health those who were diseased and enfeebled by the constant practice of sin. Therefore also, in another place, He said unto them: "They that are whole have no need of a physician; but they that are sick." Therefore, before His Resurrection from the dead, He had intercourse indiscriminately with the righteous and with sinners, and never frightened away any that came unto Him. Moreover, when He was once reclining at the house of a Pharisee, a woman came in unto Him weeping, who was a sinner in the city, as is written, and let down her wanton locks, scarcely released from the service of her past sins, and wiped His feet therewith; and we see that He did not stop her. Again, when He was on His way to bring back to life the daughter of the leader of the Synagogue, once more a woman came near unto Him, who had an issue of blood, and touched the border of His garment; and we find that He was in nowise offended, but rather vouchsafed unto her the comforting assurance: "Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace." But at that time, by His Providence, men who were still unclean, and who were polluted both in mind and body, were allowed without hindrance to touch the holy flesh itself of our Savior Christ, and to gain every blessing thereby; but when, after having completed the scheme of our redemption, He had both suffered the Cross itself, and death thereon, and had risen again to life, and shown that His Nature was superior to death, henceforward, instead of granting them a ready permission, He hinders those who come to Him from touching the very flesh of His holy body; thereby giving us a type of the holy Churches, and the mystery concerning Himself, just as also the Law given by the all-wise Moses itself did, when it represented the slaughter of the lamb as a figure of Christ; for no uncircumcised person, said the Law, shall eat thereof, meaning by uncircumcised impure -- and humanity may justly be deemed impure in its own nature. For what is the nature of man, as compared with God's inherent purity? We may not, therefore, while we remain uncircumcised, that is, impure, touch the holy Body, but only when we have been made pure by the true circumcision of the Spirit. For circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, as Paul says. And we cannot be spiritually circumcised if the Holy Spirit has not taken up His abode in us by faith and Holy Baptism. Surely, therefore, it was meet that Mary should for a while be restrained from touching His sacred Body, as she had not yet received the Spirit. For even though Christ was risen from the dead, still the Spirit had not yet been given to humanity by the Father through Him. For when He ascended to God the Father, He sent the Spirit down to us; wherefore also He said: "It is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter cannot come unto you; but if I depart, I will send Him unto you." As, therefore, the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent down unto us, for He had not yet ascended to the Father, He repulses Mary as not yet having received the Spirit, saying: Touch Me not, for I am not yet ascended unto the Father; that is to say, I have not yet sent down unto you the Holy Spirit. Hence the type is applicable to the Churches. Therefore, also, we drive away from the Holy Table those who are indeed convinced of the Godhead of Christ, and have already made profession of faith, that is, those who are already catechumens, when they have not as yet been enriched with the Holy Spirit. For He does not dwell in those who have not received Baptism. But when they have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, then indeed there is nothing to hinder them from touching our Savior Christ. Therefore, also, to those who wish to partake of the blessed Eucharist, the ministers of Divine mysteries say, "Holy things to the holy," teaching that participation in holy things is the due reward of those who are sanctified in the Spirit.