What Does Jesus Mean When He Tells Mary Magdalene Not to Cling to Him Because He Has Not Yet Ascended?

As the Easter Octave unfolds, we have in the Gospel this enigmatic statement of Our Lord Jesus to Mary Magdalene:

Do not cling to 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, to My God and your God” (John 20:17).

There is much to ponder and distinguish here.

First, we should set aside certain previous translations that rendered “Do not cling to me” as “Do not touch me.”

The latter sounds almost rude. The Greek expression Μή μου ἅπτου (Me mou haptou) is best rendered, “Do not go on clinging to me” because haptou is a verb in the middle voice.

The middle voice is one that English lacks. It is midway between the active and passive voices and indicates that the subject of the verb (in this case, Mary) both acts and is acted upon. Mary lays hold of the Lord but needs to do so because something is different. Something deeper is being shown to her and she is missing that. Mary actively sees Jesus but passively needs to receive something new about Him. This is the middle voice, containing elements of both the active and the passive.

Further, as Strong’s Greek dictionary sets forth, ἅπτω (haptou) means “to fasten to,” “to adhere to,” or “to cling to.” What the Lord asks of Mary is that she not merely cling to what is familiar but step back and see what is new. Jesus is no longer a mere rabbi or teacher. He is not merely the Jesus she knew; He is Lord and He is risen.

Second, we must ponder what Jesus means when He says that He is ascending.

St. Thomas Aquinas summarizes St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom on the meaning of the Lord’s ascending:

[Augustine says] “… Jesus would have us to believe in Him, i.e., to touch Him spiritually, as being Himself one with the Father. For to that man’s innermost perceptions He is, in some sort, ascended unto the Father, who has become so far proficient in Him, as to recognize in Him the equal with the Father … whereas she as yet believed in Him but carnally, since she wept for Him as for a man.” Or as Chrysostom says (Hom. lxxxvi in Joan.): “This woman wanted to converse with Christ just as before the Passion, and out of joy was thinking of nothing great, although Christ’s flesh had become much nobler by rising again.” And therefore He said: “I have not yet ascended to My Father”; as if to say: “Do not suppose I am leading an earthly life; for if you see Me upon earth, it is because I have not yet ascended to My Father, but I am going to ascend shortly.” Hence He goes on to say: “I ascend to My Father, and to your Father” (Summa Theologiae III, Q. 55, Art. 6, Reply to Obj. 3).

In other words, Jesus’ ascent must take place in Mary (and in every other follower). He is far more than a man resuming mortal nature. He is more; He is Lord. We must come to see Him as Lord and God. He must ascend in our sight. We must see Him at a higher level and in a higher way. He is no mere sage or rabbi; He is Lord and God! He must ascend in this way, in our understanding.

In Jesus’ public ministry, Mary had rightly reverenced Jesus as teacher and rabbi, but Jesus the Lord is doing more now than merely leading an earthly life and fitting into earthly categories.

In effect, Jesus is saying to Mary, “Don’t go on clinging to what in Me is familiar to you. Step back, take a good look, and then go tell my brothers what you see.”

When Mary Magdalene has done this, she runs to the apostles and says, “I have seen the LORD” (Jn 20:18). I show the word “LORD” in uppercase in this quote because up until this point, Mary used the word “Lord” as a title of human respect. She said, “They have taken my Lord and I don’t know where they have put Him.” Of course, one doesn’t take Him and put Him anywhere! He is LORD, and He does as He pleases. No longer clinging to Him in merely a familiar way, Mary now says, “I have seen the LORD,” meaning it in a plenary and divine sense.

For Mary, the Lord is ascending. She is seeing Him in a higher way. The Lord has ascended for Mary Magdalene. Has He ascended for you?

Finally, what of the Lord’s expression that He is ascending to “My Father and your Father, to My God and your God”?

In English, we can use the word “and” in either an equivalent or a comparative sense. I could say to someone, “You are my brother and my friend.” This uses the “and of equivalence” because it indicates that you are both a brother and a friend to me in the same or in an equivalent way.

Other uses of the word “and” indicate a more comparative sense. When we say that Jesus is Son of God and Son of Mary, we mean that He is the Son of His Father in a different way than He is Son of Mary. He is the Son of both but in very different ways. In the liturgy, when the priest says, “Pray, brethren, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God the almighty Father,” he indicates that while his sacrifice and the sacrifice of the people are both sacrifices, they are sacrifices in different ways. The priest acts in persona Christi capitis (in the person of Christ the head), while the faithful act as members of the body. Both are rightly called sacrifices, but they are so in different ways.

Thus, when Jesus says that He is ascending to “My Father and your Father,” He does not use the “and of equivalence” but the “and of comparison.” As a man, Jesus can speak of God as His Father, but His human nature is hypostatically united to His divine nature as God, the Second Person of the Trinity. So, although God is our Father and Christ’s Father, He is Christ’s Father in a far richer and more profound way.

Jesus says, “My God and your God” not by way of equivalence, but by way of comparison.

In all these ways, the Lord Jesus must ascend in our understanding. He will do that provided we do not go on clinging to Him in a merely human and familiar way.

Let the Lord ascend in your life.

Cross-posted at the Catholic Standard: What Does Jesus Mean?

14 Replies to “What Does Jesus Mean When He Tells Mary Magdalene Not to Cling to Him Because He Has Not Yet Ascended?”

  1. Thank you. And might not our failure to let Him ‘ascend in our understanding’ be a central aspect of our disordered desire (from original sin). ‘Clinging’ possessively or lustily to anyone is a lack of waiting patiently for the power to possess Christ.

  2. Very interesting. Thank you. Should we also compare Jesus’ statement to Mary, “Do not cling to Me” and His statement shortly after to Thomas, “Place your finger in My hand and place your hand in My side.” Could it be that Jesus did not want Mary to cling to Him but invited Thomas to touch Him was because Thoms was already ordained and had been given the power and faculties to confect the Eucharist and Mary had no such privileges? Recall that prior to Vatican II, only a priest could touch a consecrated Host.

    1. An interesting pious interpretation. But it is based on the questionable translation, “Do not touch me.” Which would undo everything Msgr. Pope just said.

    2. I think that is a big NO considering reception of the Eucharist in the hand has been approved by the Church.

      If the Church makes a decision concerning the reception of the Eucharist I think it is wise to accept it in faith.

      The Pope and Bishops were given the power to bind and loose. Jesus said he would never let the gates of hell prevail against it and He would never leave it.

      In Ephesians 3: 8-12 we read that the Church was the eternal purpose of God and was achieved through Jesus Christ. That God’s wisdom will be expressed through the Church even informing the heavens. Better to be obedient to the Church than undermine it!

      Ephesians 3: 8-12
      8 To me, the very least of all the holy ones, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the inscrutable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light [for all] what is the plan of the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things, 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the principalities and authorities in the heavens. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness of speech and confidence of access through faith in him.

  3. His mother wasn’t ordained either, but surely He appeared first to her and held her a long time to comfort her. Besides, the Magdalene had on two occasions in Scripture, touched Our Lord with her tears and her hair, and He told those who were grousing at her to leave her alone, and capped it by announcing her good deed would be recorded for all time in Scripture. It seems Our Lord touched and was touched frequently.
    Proverbs 8:31: “Playing in the world: and My delights we’re to be with the children of men.” With reverence and courtesy, of course.

      1. Reply to Tom Reichardt,

        The author at the site you provided is quite wrong (see quote from Matthew 28 below). I really dislike how He suggests that Eucharist ministers are Eucharistic monsters. It is not wise to disrespect and undermine the Church

        Matthew 28: 8-10
        8 Then they [Mary Magdalene and the other Mary] went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”

      2. Dear Mr Reichardt,
        I am passionate about promoting obedience to the Church. My first response to you was rather blunt but Father wisely refused to approve my comment. On reflection I thank you for posting the link, as I was unaware that such an argument was being promoted. I did find the author’s comments rather offensive though when it was suggested that Eucharistic ministers are Eucharistic monsters.

        I cannot know your intentions for posting the link to the article, but irrespective of that, I should have responded with kindness. Please forgive me for judging your intentions. I am concerned for your salvation and want you to find truth. Please read my other responses especially where I give absolute proof that Jesus did allow non-priests to touch Him after His Resurrection.

  4. Thank you Monsignor. I have a question though: the Douay-Rheims version of John 20 uses “do not touch me”. What are we to make of that? In passing, the French Bible Crampon (a beautiful translation) is similar (“ne me touchez point”) as is the King James (“touch me not”).

    1. Terry, Dr. Dobbins is totally wrong.

      We can be tempted to idolise our worship practices, it gives us a false sense of achievement. For what we think is offering respect and honour to Jesus can actually be a slap in the face of Jesus when we disrespect the Body of Christ, His Church. Have trust in the Church.

      Matthew 28: 9-10 proves that Dr Dobbins speculation is wrong.

  5. when Jesus ascended into heaven He was giving a blessing.Hebrews tells us He is the High Priest beyond the veil gone to make intercession for us. Hence His ascension completed the Passover (and Cross) and Day of Atonement. The High priest in the temple rites bless the people and went into the temple after blessing them. No woman was allowed to touch him. When he came out of the temple he blessed them again. the angels said Jesus would return as we saw Him go. the Aaronic blessing was given with the right hand held up with palm open and the left hand closed at the breast. Jesus returned and was seen in this gesture in every church picture in the Divine Mercy gesture. A sign of what? or an imminent return, or, an outpouring unprecedented of the Holy Spirit – a Spirit revealing the truth of ourselves and repentance?? But Mary’s not touching Him showed the fullness of those feasts which prophesied Him confirmed His identity as Eternal High Priest.

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