Monday, April 09, 2007

Spiritual Hoarding

In the apostle John's account of the resurrection, Jesus says to Mary, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God" (20:17). It is surely a mysterious passage, and as I heard it read again yesterday, I wondered why Jesus felt the need to tell Mary not to cling to him. It occurred to me that perhaps the Holy Spirit inspired John to record this for our benefit, that we may learn a valuable lesson about being in communion with Christ.

The lesson is about spiritual hoarding, or keeping Jesus to ourselves. Mary, overwhelmed with joy, "held him by the feet" (Matthew 28:9). Jesus instructs her to go and tell others that he is risen and will be ascending to the Father. Do we not behave likewise in our own lives? We want Jesus for ourselves, and fail to spread the gospel to others. The venerable commentator Matthew Henry writes, "Public service ought to be preferred before private satisfaction." So much of today's Christianity is about meeting our personal felt needs. There is an unhealthy emphasis on what Jesus can do for us, at the expense of what Jesus expects us to do for him.

You can see such an emphasis in the much loved hymn, In the Garden. "I come to the garden alone...And he walks with me and he talks with me...etc." Mary expected Jesus to stay on earth, and her great desire was to never let him go, but Jesus was to be enthroned, and Mary had good news to bring to others. As Calvin writes, "They fixed their attention on his bodily presence, and did not understand any other way of enjoying his society than by conversing with him on earth. We ought, therefore, to conclude, that they were not forbidden to touch him, until Christ saw that, by their foolish and unreasonable desire, they wished to keep him in the world" (Commentary, John 20:17). Jesus had a kingdom to rule, and his kingdom was not of this world (John 8:23; 18:36). We cannot keep Jesus to ourselves, but rather we must share the great message of his resurrection and Lordship. We must look continually to things above.

{picture: Noli Me Tangere, by Titian}


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