Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Touch not (the glorified body)

Randy David, in his Easter Sunday piece at the PDI, suggests that Jose Rizal’s use of “Noli Me Tangere” (Touch Me Not) as the title of his 1st novel might give a better understanding of what the phrase meant when the Risen Jesus uttered it to Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel (20:17).

For David, Rizal wanted his Spanish and Filipino readers to let go of, or to stop clinging to, the decadent and morbid colonial society on the islands and instead to work for the emergence of a new nation. David does not make it clear, however, what Mary Magdalene in the gospel had to let go.

Mary had to let go of her incomplete understanding of Jesus as her beloved teacher and her incomplete understanding of her identity and mission as a female disciple. The Risen Jesus is not just her beloved teacher but the beloved Son of the merciful Father in whose Spirit we become true brothers, sisters and apostles. Jesus was ascending to his Father (and our Father) in order to fulfil this higher truth.

Christ wants a personal relationship with each disciple but in community. This is what he intimated to Mary: “she must learn to relate to him in community and she must come to know him as he is in relation to God his Father...He is trying to draw her into the Risen Body of Christ, larger than her personal connection to him.” (Megan McKenna)
Also, Jesus wanted Mary to let go of the pervasive patriarchal belief that women cannot be reliable witnesses to truth. Jesus entrusted Mary with the mission to go to the other disciples to proclaim and bear witness to his resurrection and glorification. Just as Jesus bore witness to his loving Father, every disciple must bear witness, must have an apostolate.

David prefers the translation, “Do not cling to me,” over “Touch me not,” which is closer to the original Greek text, “Me mou haptou” (Not me touch), of John 20:17. What insight does one gain by puzzling over the original text? It could have meant: Not Me but my brothers and sisters (need your) touch (and there you touch Me).

Especially if the experience of touching were potentially very satisfying, to prevent touching would be to prevent clinging and having the memory of the experience as a source of distraction from necessary work (the apostolate). “(There is) a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain” (Ecclesiastes 3:5). The time for embracing the glorified body of Christ is at the completion of the mission at the great wedding feast in the new heaven and new earth.

Christ wanted Mary to focus on the great and necessary work he was entrusting her: courageously go to the community, especially to the male disciples, and bear witness to the full truth and thus turn the community into a true body of Christ in whose communion there is no hierarchy among male and female.
On earth Christ wants his witnesses, ministers and missionaries to touch his glorified body by taking care of the body of believers. (In the case of Thomas the Twin, Christ responded to his challenge by inviting him to touch the scars of his glorified body, and this would have reminded Thomas how he abandoned and wounded his beloved teacher despite his bold declaration to his peers: "Let us also go, that we may die with him" [John 11:16].)
For those of us who derive satisfaction, or perverse pleasure, from periodic self-flagellation on everything that is wrong about our country, may this Easter season help us gain the courage and the focus to do our share in the challenging work of building our nation, community by community, family by family, house by house, stone by stone, board by board, day by day.

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