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John 20:17a:

Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father."

Why did Jesus tell Mary not to "hold on to" Him? Presumably it was not a problem with touching, since Jesus told Thomas to touch Him. Was it a gender issue?

I know Jesus said, "for I have not yet returned to the Father" but I don't understand why that should prohibit physical contact.

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2 Answers

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Not a Gender Issue

He allowed a sinful woman to wash his feet before with her tears and hair, which was rather inappropriate for her to do particularly at a dinner she wasn't invited to.

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them. —Luke 7:36-38

Moreover, in general all of the details the Bible gives are important. If this was a gender issue, it would be of little to no theological significance.

The Theological Reason

After Jesus' resurrection, his relation to his disciples changed. They don't recognize him right away in several cases, and in the book of Revelation John has a very different experience of him than leaning on his chest as at the last supper.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. —Revelation 1:17

Jesus had already told them that when he went to be with the father, he would send another comforter, the Holy Spirit. Thus, even though they had a short period where they sometimes got to see him in his physical body, they were right on the edge of the inauguration of the Holy Spirit's administration of Christ to them. They were about to begin participating in Christ in a deeper, more spiritual way. Thus, the physical affection that they had showed him was no longer appropriate.

Thomas of course touched him in a different way for a different reason—and not in a way or for a reason that he would have done before the crucifixion; it was part of specific purpose of his appearances to them during that time (bearing witness to the resurrection).

Conclusion

Also, the idea of clinging here more than likely does not have a purely physical sense. In John 14 (and the following chapters), Jesus had already had a prolonged discussion with the disciples about him returning to the Father, during which time they expressed great sadness in spite of his insisting that it was better for them. This verse is best viewed in light of that passage; they ought not to cling to him yet, but to cling to him spiritually after he returns to the Father.

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I don't agree that, "the physical affection that they had showed him was no longer appropriate". However, I do think you've hit on something with not clinging to Him, because He had to go to be with His Father. So I'll accept this but also have a nagging feeling this issue could be explored further. –  Wikis May 21 '12 at 10:11
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I don't believe it had anything to do with gender. Jesus had nothing against Mary; there was definitely a different issue involved. I've heard an interesting reasoning for this, but I'm not a scholar and I haven't done enough study on it. Some say that it has to do with Jesus' physical nature after the resurrection, that He was physically something other than what our bodies are now.

Is it possible that this is emotional? That the first person that Jesus wanted to embrace or touch him, was in fact, the Heavenly Father? The Father turned his back on him on the cross, which would make sense that now that the sins of the world were paid for, he would want to reunite with his Father, fully embracing him and taking his rightful place on the throne. Just a thought; I definitely could be wrong.

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Thanks for this. I don't think it has to do with His resurrection body because Thomas had permission to touch Him. –  Wikis May 3 '12 at 20:16
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