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Unexpected love: Part 4

Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned to him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord.” And she told them that he had said these things to her. —John 20:10-18

Jesus turns the sorrow and confusion of Mary Magdalene into joy and hope.

Theodore J. Hartwig

Among the best known paintings of Jesus’ resurrection is the one of Mary Magdalene meeting with Jesus at the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene became a popular figure in the Middle Ages. In the gospel of Luke (8:2,3) she is described as having been freed from seven demons and as one of the women who supported Jesus “out of their own means.” Although it is not certain, many adopted the belief that Jesus had rescued her from a flagrantly sinful life. If she could be delivered from evil, then there was hope for even the worst sinners. So she became a popular subject in painting and sculpture. In recent years she again has become a popular subject of attention, this time in such profane productions as Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Jesus, and The Da Vinci Code.

Mary Magdalene was one of the women who stood near the cross during the last hours of Jesus’ life (Matthew 27:55,56). She was with the other women—including Mary the mother of James (the other Mary), Salome, and Joanna—who made their way to the tomb early on Easter morning with their spices to anoint the body of Jesus (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1,10).

These accounts of the resurrection include Mary, but John’s account features Mary prominently. The resurrection of Jesus was an astonishing event to the women and to the disciples of Jesus. The eyewitness accounts of that unusual morning reveal the shock and confusion that the Lord’s resurrection caused. We have to compare and combine all the gospel accounts to get the entire picture.

MARY’S IMPORTANT DISCOVERY

John puts Mary Magdalene at the tomb, but this is the second time she has been at the tomb on Easter morning. She had come with the other women when they found that the stone had been rolled away. She might have jumped to the conclusion that the body of Jesus had been stolen, quickly left the other women, and ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciples: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2). Peter and John ran to the tomb to verify her news. Mary slowly followed them back to the tomb. It seems she arrived after Peter and John looked inside, saw the grave clothes, and left the tomb.

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. Still thinking the body of Jesus had been snatched during the night, she even took a look inside. She saw the place where the body of Jesus had been. There John tells us were two angels—one at the head and one at the foot where Jesus had been. They asked Mary why she was crying. Mary’s mind was so focused on one thing she couldn’t imagine anything else. She said, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” (v. 13). It was not a question but, for her, a statement of fact.

She turned away from the angels inside the tomb before they could offer any different explanation. Then she saw Jesus, but in her tears and anguish she did not recognize him. She assumed he was a gardener, perhaps employed by wealthy Joseph of Arimathea. After all, it was in his new and unused tomb they had laid the dead body of Jesus three days earlier (Matthew 27:57-61). She pleaded, “Tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” A gardener of Joseph might know.

One word from Jesus broke through the fog of her despair: “Mary.” John makes it clear that Jesus said her name the way it was pronounced in their mother tongue (Aramaic)—Miriam. This no doubt had a familiar, informal ring to it. It was the way family and friends would address her. In our setting today, it would be like saying “Annie” instead of “Ann.” His “Miriam” led to immediate recognition from Mary.

Joy. Surprise. Relief. All these things suddenly changed her attitude. She recognized her teacher, Lord, and Savior: “Rabboni.” As John explains in the text, Rabboni is the word for teacher in the Aramaic language—an informal term of respect instead of the more formal Rabbi, my dear teacher.

By trying to clasp Jesus’ knees, Mary assumed that the old teacher-disciple companionship had been restored. But Jesus directed her thought to a different relationship by saying, “Do not hold on to me.” This is one of two key expressions in this story. Jesus is telling Mary that the temporal relationship of the past will be exchanged for a more intimate spiritual relationship in the future. With this new spiritual union Mary would no longer take hold of Jesus outwardly with her hands. Far better, he would be grasped inwardly by faith. He would live in Mary and she in him.

MARY’S IMPORTANT MESSAGE

In the other significant expression of the story, Jesus gave Mary a message to bring to his disciples. Peter and John had been at the empty tomb before Mary arrived, but, in another example of God’s choosing the unexpected, a woman would be one of the first heralds of the resurrection.

In Mary’s message to the disciples, Jesus called them “my brothers.” Thereby he assured them that the old teacher-pupil relationship had been replaced by a new more closely-knit brother relationship. They had sat for three years at the feet of the Master Teacher. But now they would be personal witnesses of his resurrected body. They would receive the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The years of their preparation were finished. As Jesus’ brothers they would be fully qualified to serve as the foundation of the New Testament church, “with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). All of this is embraced in the new name of brothers which Jesus gave his disciples. And as beneficiaries of this new relationship, they were assured that their Lord and Master would always be with them in their exalted ministry, even to the end of the world.

Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

This is the final article in a four-part series on the gems of John.

 

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 103, Number 4
Issue: April 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Unexpected love: Part 2

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” —John 8:2-11

Jesus talks to the woman caught in adultery.

Theodore J. Hartwig

 

The account of the woman taken in adultery was commonly inserted as past of John’s gospel already by the fifth century. English and German translations included it as part of John’s gospel. Scholars through the ages commented on it and considered it an authentic account of our Savoir’s life. God’s people over the centuries found much to learn from this account.

In recent translations, the account of this woman is included, but with a note that it was not included in the earliest manuscripts of John’s gospel. Yet, most agree that it is an authentic and important account from the Savior’s ministry. In this incident, Jesus makes one of his most precious promclamations. We simply take our place among the believers over the centuries and learn from this account of the Savior;s love for sinners. Whatever its history, we may rest assured that the incident of the woman tajen in adultery happened and that it is among one of the most precious proclamations of the gospel in Jesus’ ministry.

A TEST FOR JESUS

The story introduces three major actors. A fourth person is conspicuous by his absence. Bear in mind that the woman was caught openly in the act of adultery. The man sharing the act with the woman is missing. He may have escaped. He may have been allowed to escape. He may not have been useful for the charge brought against the woman by the law teachers and Pharisees. In their minds, perhaps, her sin was more grievous than the man’s. Whatever happened, these purists were intent on using her to test Jesus.

Jesus’ immediate response is interesting. He bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger. We might wonder why. A possible guess is that he wanted to fill the highly charged silence with activity and bide his time a bit. Then, at the accusers’ insistence that Jesus respond to their question, he aimed his dart directly at their consciences. He knew exactly what to say in these circumstances. Beginning with the person who among them is without sin, he invited them to start throwing stones at her.

His words must have struck their consciences like a thunderbolt. It would have struck us with as much force as it struck them. Without another word, the accusers began to peel off one by one, beginning with the most senior and therefore most qualified candidate to set the tone for everyone else to follow.

JESUS’ DIRECTIVE TO THE WOMAN

Now comes the most eloquent part of the story. Jesus asks a question of the woman: “Has no one condemned you?” “No one,” she responds. She does not offer counter accusations, point her finger at her one-time accusers, or shake her fist at them as the slink away. Her answer suggests that she was repentant.

Another thunderbolt from Jesus, “Neither do I condemn you.” Forgiveness was freely given to an undeserving sinner. In the minds of the purists, however, Jesus may have seemed much too lenient. But his words are a persuasive testimony to the height, width, and depth of the gospel. And, with their inherent power, they engendered a new life in the woman.

Jesus’ follow-up directive thus offers the woman an opportunity to turn from the destructive relationship that brought her before him. It is a beautiful example of gospel-motivated law preaching. In the strength of her forgiveness, Jesus tells the woman that she should leave her life of sin. Forgiveness so freely given is never a license to live as one pleases.

Luther expounded gospel-motivated law obedience beautifully in his explanation to the Ten Commandments in the Small Catechism. He introduced each Commandment with its necessary preamble, “We should fear and love God . . .” Obedience flows from forgiveness and is given selflessly from inner compulsion, and therefore it is pleasing to God.

Thus this story of the woman caught openly in adultery is one of the most beautiful testimonies to both the gospel and the gospel’s fruit of obedience. It also shimmers as one of the four gems from John in this genre of Jesus’ uninhibited association with women.

Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

This is the second article in a four-part series on the gems of John.

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Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 103, Number 2
Issue: February 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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Unexpected love

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) John 4:4-9

Jesus reached out to a Samaritan woman.

Theodore J. Hartwig

When reading stories from the life of Jesus in the gospels, we often find Jesus sparring with the Pharisees. The purist Pharisees accused him of flaunting Jewish rules and traditions. Among their charges, they faulted Jesus for welcoming tax collectors and sinners and even eating with them. In their own minds, they thanked God that they were not like these other people.

Not only did Jesus welcome tax collectors and sinners, but, even worse, he disregarded Jewish conventions about associating with women. He freely spoke with them, praised them, and defended them against their detractors.

In John’s gospel, there are four notable examples of the free and easy way in which Jesus associated with women. We might call them the four gems from John.

JESUS HAD TO GO THROUGH SAMARIA

At the end of his gospel, John writes that Jesus did many other additional things that are not recorded in his gospel. Given limitations of room on his writing material of papyrus, John had to be selective in his choice of stories and the space he devoted to them. About 80 percent of this fourth chapter records Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It is one of the most beautiful accounts of mission work in the New Testament. Knowing this heightens one’s attention to several words and expressions in the story.

It begins with the notice that Jesus had to go through Samaria. The “had to” becomes meaningful when we know that in their trips between Galilee in the north and Jerusalem in the south, the Jews normally took the longer route around Samaria by way of the Jordan River to the east. Today, it would be like traveling from Nebraska to North Dakota by way of Iowa and Minnesota.

As John notes, Jews took the roundabout route because they did not associate with Samaritans. So we might guess that John used the compelling “had to” because, at the time, Jesus insisted that he and the other disciples return to Galilee by way of Samaria. Jesus knew, as they did not, what beautiful gospel fruits would result from this journey. For us, this little insight weaves a golden circle around the “had to.”

JESUS TALKS TO THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

The next significant expression in the story is “tired as he was.” To catch its flavor in John’s original text, the words could be rendered in a free translation stating that Jesus was “all tuckered out” or “totally bushed.” These words are another testimony that Jesus, though without sin, was a genuine human being in the full sense of the word. He was so tired that he remained alone at the well and sent his disciples into the nearby town of Sychar to buy food.

What happened next is noteworthy and significant. Jesus was alone at the well with the Samaritan woman. Contrary to Jewish behavior, Jesus initiated a discussion with the woman. This conversation with a woman would have been far less abnormal if one or more of his disciples had been present. Even more to the woman’s surprise, his request was directed not merely to a Samaritan but to a Samaritan woman.

Farther on, John adds a significant detail. John identifies the time of the day as the sixth hour (ESV) or noon. Normally, the women in the village would draw water at the well on the outskirts of town in the late afternoon when the day was cooler and when they could enjoy sharing the latest news with one another. But this woman came at noon when she knew she would be alone. The other women were not at the well. Her timing hints at her sordid reputation in the town and that she wanted to avoid conversation with the other women.

When Jesus eventually talks with her about this reputation, he speaks in a more kindly way than others might have chosen. He was not cruel and condescending. He does not tell her that she has had five affairs with men and is now living with a man who might become number six. He softens his probe into her past.

Astounded by his words, the woman responded with a concern about the right place to worship. At first we might think that, in her embarrassment, she is trying to change the subject. But there may be more to the question. She is now a different woman. Jesus had spoken to her of the living water he gives. This man—by his outward appearance, by the tone of his voice, by his willingness to speak with her and do it so kindly—as well as his sweet gospel message of living water had turned her into a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

JESUS REVEALS THAT HE IS CHRIST

Now she is eager to know where she can be healed of her sinful past, whether in Samaria or in Jerusalem. She expresses confidence that when Christ comes, he will explain everything. In his one and only self-revelation recorded in the gospels, Jesus now tells the woman that he is the Christ.

At all other places where the disciples speak of Jesus as the Christ, he tells them not to reveal his identity until he is risen from the dead. Why did he make this exception with the woman? A simple gospel-centered solution may be that her expectation of Christ differed radically from those of the general public, including the disciples. They all expected a political Christ who would restore the kingdom of Israel to the glory it had during David’s time. She was not trapped by that expectation. She knew that Christ would bring spiritual restoration.

The Pharisees, the Jews in general, and perhaps even the disciples, were wrong; she was right. She would receive Jesus’ self-revelation the right way. Her faith and testimony at the close of this story are confirmation that she belongs to Christ. She hurries into Sychar, does not shrink any longer to speak openly to the assembled townspeople, and becomes an instrument to a bountiful harvest of believers.

John, the author, had good reason to write at length about this episode from the life of Jesus. The Lord’s short, unusual request of a Samaritan woman for a drink of water led to an amazing result. His conversation at the well with a woman is truly one of the four gems from John in this genre of Jesus’ uninhibited association with women.

Theodore Hartwig, professor emeritus at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. John, New Ulm.

This is the first article in a four-part series on the gems of John.

SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Theodore J. Hartwig
Volume 103, Number 1
Issue: January 2016

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2018
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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