Touch Me Not

Yeshua’s admonition to Mary wasn’t about physical touch; it was about holding on—and letting go.

Artwork from the Torah Club Jesus, My Rabbi study, lesson "Rabboni". (Image and art © First Fruits of Zion)

The Gospel of John records that when Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene after His resurrection, she mistook Him for the gardener—the caretaker of the orchard and the cemetery:

When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” (John 20:14-15)

It was a logical assumption. Who else would be in the garden at such an early hour? Still disoriented, she asked Him if He might know the place to which they had moved the body, but He gently interrupted her, speaking her name, “Miryam.”

The mists cleared from her eyes. She recognized the Master. He was alive.

She fell at his feet and cried out, “Rabboni!” i.e., “My Rabbi,” or “My Teacher!”

What happened next causes some confusion. Either she prostrated herself before Him and attempted to lay hold of His feet, but He warned her, “Touch me not!” Or she prostrated herself before Him and laid hold of His feet, and He said, “Stop clinging to Me.” Compare:

Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.
(John 20:17 KJV)

Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. (John 20:17 NASB)

The Greek allows for either reading. Those who adopt “touch me not” as the reading encounter several difficulties. Why would the risen Yeshua be reluctant to let Mary touch Him? Would contact with her somehow hamper His ascension to the Father? Scholars have offered several unconvincing explanations, but none of them square well with a sober reading of the Gospels. Note that later the same day, the women who went to the tomb took hold of the Master’s feet, and still later, Yeshua invited His disciples to touch His wounds.

More likely, Mary had already taken hold of His feet when the Master said, “Stop clinging to Me.” She had laid hold of His feet like the woman distressed in spirit took hold of the feet of Elijah, or like the woman clinging to her beloved in the Song of Songs:

When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. (2 Kings 4:27)

I said [to the angels], “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” Scarcely had I left them when I found him whom my soul loves; I held on to him and would not let him go. (Song of Songs 3:4)

The Master warned her that despite appearances, He had not returned to stay. He had yet to ascend to the Father and take His place in glory. She should not suppose that His appearance to her meant that the time had come when she might join Him at the table in the Messianic Era. Though the resurrection was a cause for joy, a time of absence still lay ahead. In that respect, the words “stop clinging to Me” meant, “Do not try to hold on to me just yet. I am here only a short while.” A further implication of this interpretation suggests that subsequent to His ascension, the time will come in the future when He will be among His disciples forever. In that day, we may cling to Him for as long as we like.

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