March 30, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
Out of darkness into the Light
This Easter Sunday I would like to focus on the experience of three
people, Mary Magdalene, Thomas, and Peter. They each have something to
teach us about ourselves, Jesus and the Resurrection. We will look at
their individual reaction to the death of Jesus, Jesus’ individual
reaction to each of them, and the individual mission which was entrusted
to each. Each of them has a particular darkness: Mary Magdalene, sorrow;
Thomas, doubt; Peter, remorse.
Her reaction to the death of Jesus: she is preoccupied with getting
the spices needed to anoint the body of Jesus. She does observe the
Sabbath rest, maybe because of what others would think. She comes to
the tomb with her programmed expectations. She is busy responding to
her loss by doing something. Her words are repeated three times almost
like a lament, “They have taken his body and I don’t know where they
have laid him.” She is so disoriented by this unexpected turn that she
doesn’t recognize Jesus when he is present to her. She thinks he is the
Jesus deals with Mary by calling her by name. He leads her out of
the darkness of her sorrow. In this calling she receives recognition
and again moves into action. She clings to Jesus. He then tells her,
“Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the father.”
Sandra Schneider’s discussion of this is most enlightening. She says the
literal translation would be: “Not me (emphatic) continue to touch but
“go to my brothers and sisters.” The emphatic placement of the “me”
at the beginning of the command and closest to the negative, which thus
seems to govern the pronoun “me” rather than the verb “touch,” suggests
that what Jesus is forbidding is not so much the touching itself but Mary’s
selection of the object to touch, namely, Jesus who stands before her as an
individual. …In other words, I would suggest that what Jesus is really
doing is redirecting Mary’s desire for union with himself from his physical
or earthly body (which in any case no longer exists because it is the
glorified Lord who stands before her in an appearance which is temporary)
to the new locus of his presence in the world, that is, the community of his
brothers and sisters, the disciples.”
Jesus then missions her with the words, “But go to my brothers and
tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your
God.'” The writer of the fourth Gospel states: “Mary of Magdala went
and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord,’ and what he told
her.” Jesus had progressively led her from the darkness of sorrow to
the light of joy. This joy she could now share. Her witness to Jesus
would be different because she was different.
Thomas reacts to the death of Jesus by going off by himself alone to
deal with his loss. He probably went over his contacts with Jesus to
see where he (Thomas) had been wrong. This Jesus whom he thought had
the key that would tie all his searching and synthesizing together now
had died ignominiously on a Cross. He needed time alone to process his
thoughts, to regroup. He was dealing with the darkness of doubt. When he
does rejoin the group he is presented with the information that they
have seen the Lord. He thinks that this must be some kind of delusional
thinking. He must have his own personal proof, put his finger in the
wounds of the hand and his hand into the side.
Jesus comes to Thomas. Jesus particularizes his approach to Thomas.
There is nothing of the don’t touch words directed to Mary Magdalene.
In fact Jesus tells him just the opposite, come and touch.
Thomas is overwhelmed and bursts forth his own, My Lord and My God.
His profession of faith must have enriched the others. Thomas was the
one who gathered so much information, he was always perceiving things,
even things that others missed. Doubting Thomas became believing Thomas
and inspired the others to greater depths of belief. Tradition has Thomas
bringing the Gospel as far away as India.
Peter responds to the death of Jesus by returning to his familiar
home and task, fishing in Galilee. He was overwhelmed by all that had
happened to Jesus and how it had all affected him. He obsessed about
his own protests,his taking a sword in the garden, his denials, his flight,
his going out and weeping bitterly. It was all too much for him. He was
overwhelmed by the darkness of his own powerful emotions. He was in a fog.
So when Jesus comes to them on the shore, Peter doesn’t recognize
Jesus but John does. But upon recognition he does the impulsive thing
(Peter always seemed to be doing the impulsive thing) and jumps into the
Jesus takes Peter by himself and questions him, “Simon, son of John
do you love me?” The Greek is important to understand the meaning of
these questions and Peter’s response.
Jesus’ first two questions are with the word agapas Peter
responds, “Yes Lord you know that I love (philo) you.”
Jesus is asking about “self sacrificing love”. Peter is responding
with the “love of friendship”. It would seem that Peter’s heart wasn’t in it.
Maybe he was still dealing with the fact that he had denied Jesus.
A second time Jesus questions him: “Simon son of John
do you love (agapas) me.” Peter’s response was the same (philo)
a second time. Now he was probably preoccupied with the
fact that he had denied knowing Jesus not once but three times.
A third time Jesus questions (now Jesus switches to the word phileis)
Peter, and this time the emotional Peter comes through. The Gospel
writer tells us: “Peter was distressed that he had said to him
a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, Lord you know
everything; you know that I love (philo)you.” Peter could now hear
Jesus’ question. Jesus finding Peter incapable at this moment
of agape, Jesus settles for phileo.
Peter is to feed and shepherd. Now Peter has expressed his
“friendship love” for Jesus. Jesus goes on to tell him more.
Peter would have to surrender. “…when you were younger, you used to
dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old,
you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and
lead you where you do not want to go.” Peter will eventually lose
his life over Jesus??but he will do it unwillingly. Wes Howard?Brook, “The fisherman
who has, for better or worse, been in charge of his own destiny
throughout the narrative will, in the end, find his fate determined
by another. Is this “another” simply the Romans or is it God?” The text
leaves it open. In Peter’s surrender Jesus could say to Simon son of John,
now Peter again, “Follow me.”
Jesus uses images, symbols in dealing with Peter, feeder
of lambs and sheep, shepherd of sheep, bound for the Lord.
But Peter was preoccupied about the Beloved Disciple that was
following: “Lord what about him?” Peter is to incarnate the laying down
of life, the Beloved Disciple will model remaining in Jesus’ love. The
Beloved Disciple apparently was not martyred. The different perspectives of the
ultimate ecclesial authority of the martyred Peter and his successors raises
the question of what is Jesus’ will for the different band of disciples,
the Johannine community.
The content of Jesus’ words to Peter is :don’t worry about him,
just do what I want of you. Peter did this.
One of the aspects that stands out so clearly in these stories is
that the three persons are very different. They are treated very
differently by Jesus and they are missioned differently by Jesus.
Easter lessons for us would be: we are different people, one from the
other, we experience different darkness. Jesus comes to us and treats
each of us differently but offers us life and light. He also has a
particular expression of the Gospel that he wants you and I to live. Be
the Easter life of Jesus for yourself, for others, for the world.