By Robin Jarrell
But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her (John 20:11-18.)
Only the gospel writer John places the resurrection appearance of Jesus within the setting of a garden. This is no accident, for John means to explain to the readers of his narrative that the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection has indeed mended the ancient rift between God and humans since their exile from the first Garden of Eden. When one of the angels at the tomb calls Mary Magdalene “woman” as she is weeping, that angel identifies Mary to the readers with the first woman, Eve. The two angels in the garden tomb now take the place of the two Cherubim who in Genesis 3 escort Eve and Adam from Paradise. The angels in the garden tomb do not bar the way to Eden. They represent the return to Paradise which has been transformed by the resurrection. Now that Jesus has been resurrected, the tomb is no longer a place of death and Eden is again habitable.
Jesus, like the angels, also identifies Mary as “woman. The label “woman” associates Mary not only with the first woman, Eve, but places her in the role of the new Eve, or Second Woman, who is now transformed from the sinful Eve into what Eve was originally created to be: the non-sexualized spouse of Adam. Mary then assumes Jesus to be the “gardener,” of the garden which connects Jesus to Adam who was created by God to cultivate the Garden of Eden. Mary’s verbal identification of Jesus as “my teacher” places Jesus in an authoritative position relative to Mary. This is the first stage of the Fourth Evangelist’s portrayal of the non-sexual marriage between Jesus and Mary that will become the new paradigm for future female followers of Jesus; the words and actions of the resurrected Jesus in the garden repair the fateful mistake of Eve’s original sexual awareness and (re)create the original pairing desired by God since the beginning.
The command of Jesus to Mary, “do not touch me,” recalls the First Woman’s own addition to God’s original command. When Eve explains God’s command to the Serpent concerning the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, Eve tells the Serpent that not only are the first pair not allowed to eat the fruit of the forbidden tree, they are not even permitted to touch it (Genesis 3:3.) Jesus’ warning to Mary also places Jesus in the role of the creator God since the first words God speaks to his creation is the command not to eat from the fruit of the Tree of Good and Evil. I have argued elsewhere (Fallen Angels and Fallen Women: The Mother of the Son of Man, Wipf and Stock, 2013) that the term “eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” suggests that the “original sin” was, in fact, Eve and Adam’s sexual coupling and their resulting sexual awareness. By employing the words of the First Woman’s response to the Serpent and placing the prohibition upon himself, Jesus combines two originally competing roles. First, he is now the New Serpent – not the replica of the original tempter in the garden, but the One who, like the healing symbol in the wilderness in Numbers 21:4-9 has been lifted up thrice: by his crucifixion, by his resurrection and soon by his ascension. He is also the new Adam who has swallowed up the original bringer of death and has restored the first couple to their respective non-sexual relationship. The disastrous sexual touch of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil by the First Woman and the resulting fall into death is completely nullified by Jesus’ command to his New Eve. Jesus has been made the fruit of the original Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, who is Wisdom incarnate, and whose purpose is to grant eternal life without sexual knowledge. Thus, Jesus does not allow Mary to touch him.
It is my view that the writer of John’s gospel wishes to highlight the sexuality of Jesus for theological reasons. It is of the utmost importance in terms of the new religion of Christianity. Jesus becomes salvific first through his non-sexual conception (the virgin birth) and then through the final dismantling of the original sexual sin in the garden tomb. The evidence for the proliferation of beliefs concerning abstinence and chastity beginning as early as the book of Acts attest to this fact.
And thus it is not Mary the mother of Jesus who is the New Eve, but the redeemed and chaste Mary Magdalene, who is sent by Jesus to announce to the other disciples that the disastrous actions of the first human woman has been nullified: Mary Magdalene has not touched! The curse has been reversed because Mary has instead only “seen the Lord.”