How Jesus Pulled a Woman and a Man out of a Ditch: Mary of Magdala, Part 2

Are you stuck in a ditch of doubt or confusion regarding Jesus? Does your understanding of Jesus need a push? The Gospel of John focuses our attention of two cases of ditch-fallers. Both a man and a woman who believed in the existence of Jesus fell into a ditch, either a ditch of skepticism, doubt, or misunderstanding. They needed to take the next step and get back on the road again. But they were stuck in a ditch. They needed a mental tow truck.[1] Jesus pulled up with his Ford tow truck.


How Jesus Pulled

a Woman and a Man out of a Ditch

Mary of Magdala

Part 2

If you, too, are stuck in a ditch of doubt or confusion about Jesus, then I invite you to consider how He relates to people who are stuck. John’s Gospel shows us how Jesus understands your personal doubt or confusion. And He won’t dismiss your concerns either. But He also has a message tailored just for you, a word designed specifically to help pull you out of the ditch and free you up to take the next step.


Confused Woman, Skeptical Man

Jesus spoke to a skeptical man (Thomas) and a benumbed, confused woman (Mary of Magdala[1]) who each needed a boost to get them unstuck, freed from the ditch of doubt and misunderstanding. He gave them the needed personal pull that enabled them to take the next step, a step that put them back on the road of faith.

He can pull you out as well. Jesus would like to see you back on the road again as you prepare for eternity.


Ladies First

Consider the relevancy of your case with that of Mary of Magdala.[2] Mary needed to take the next step. When she finally recognized Jesus on Easter morning, her instinctive reaction was to hold onto Him.

Mary was fearful that she would lose her faithful friend and teacher in the same way that she had lost him on the occasion of His death. His death on the cross plunged her into a ditch of grief. When she finally recognized Jesus, she wasn’t going to let him disappear again. So she grasped him by his feet (Matthew 28:9).

Jesus knew Mary was in a ditch and needed to take the next step of faith. Mary needed to understand that Jesus was not simply the human friend and teacher she thought he was. Her vision of Jesus needed a mental power boost. Mary needed to understand (with her mind) that Jesus was far more than a friend and teacher; He was the resurrected Lord, the Son of the eternal Father, on a mission to return to His Father.


Jesus Admonishes Mary

So, Jesus admonished her to “stop holding[3] onto me. I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Jesus was inviting Mary—by admonishing her to let go of Him[4]--to take the next step in her faith and understanding. Jesus was addressing the flaw in her thinking.

Perhaps you, too, have a miniature view of Jesus. To you, He is a friend, a great teacher, a wonderful example, maybe even a prophet of God. Mary entertained similar but myopic thoughts. Perhaps Jesus is admonishing you—like Mary--to stop holding onto such incomplete views of Him. Is He? It wouldn’t surprise me if He was.


Is Jesus Calling You To Let Go?

Do you need to take the next step in your faith? As you read Mary’s story in John 20, can you hear the same Jesus admonishing you to let go of those limited views of Him? Does He want you to embrace His identity as God’s Son who came into the world of humanity to purchase salvation for those who believed in Him and, then, returned to the Father? Is Jesus calling you to mentally let go of your incomplete views and take the next step? He urged Mary to do so. She complied and took the next step.


Jesus Gets Personal

Jesus was personal with Mary. He was addressing the personal misunderstandings she entertained of Him. Is He getting personal with you? Jesus dealt with individuals by name. He still relates to individuals by name. Is He calling your name and admonishing you to take the next step of faith? Mary did. She didn’t procrastinate. Why not take that next step right now. Why put it off?


The Case of Thomas

The case of Thomas appears to present us with a knot of inconsistency on the part of Jesus. Jesus admonished Mary to “stop holding onto Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” But He also urged Thomas, “Put your finger here and examine my hands. Stop doubting, stop continuing in unbelief, but believe.” (20:27)

Wait just a minute. Jesus to Mary: “Don’t touch me,” but to Thomas he said: “Touch me.” Sounds like a classic case of inconsistency, or male chauvinism, right? Women can’t touch Jesus, but men can, right? Well, not so fast.


Sounds like a Contradiction

I concede. It sounds like a contradiction. But an examination of Jesus’ methods of relating to people in John’s Gospel unties the alleged knot of inconsistency. The answer is simple but not simplistic. And there is no need to substitute shallow shibboleths for deeper reflection. The two different admonitions are really not an inconsistency at all. There is no knot to untie; stay with me and I’ll show you.


Jesus Relates to Individuals as Individuals

Jesus relates to individuals as individuals, not by cookie-cutter methods, one size fits all. The path through the vicious dogs of inconsistency is safe when we understand that Jesus relates to people as individuals. Let me show you the safe path through the barking dogs.


Thomas Demands Empirical Proof

Thomas—one of Jesus’ disciples--skipped the first meeting with the resurrected Jesus.[5] When the disciples relayed the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to him, Thomas replied with an ultimatum: “Unless I see the wounds[6] from the nails in His hands, and put my finger in the wounds from the nails, and put my hand in His side, I will never believe it.” (“it”=Jesus had risen from the dead; 20:25).

Thomas doubted that the man the disciples saw was really Jesus. They must have seen someone else. Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had really been raised from the dead. Jesus was dead and buried and that was that. So, rather than believing the testimony of his friends, Thomas demanded empirical proof to change his mind and believe. A week passed by. Thomas remained a skeptic for another week. End of story, right?


Jesus Offers Empirical Proof

A week later,[7] Jesus—who apparently heard Thomas’ skeptical ultimatum—invited him to do exactly what he demanded before he would believe in the resurrection.

Please observe: Jesus’ invitation fit Thomas’ ultimatum like a hand fits in a glove: “Put your finger here and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side.” Jesus’ knowledge of Thomas’ skepticism is amazing. His patience with Thomas is also a sign of His mercy and love to doubters.

Thomas demanded empirical proof. Jesus was offering him empirical proof and urging him to take advantage of the offer. He was admonishing Thomas to change the way he thought about Jesus. Jesus was pulling him out of the ditch of skepticism. He adapted his strategy based upon the precise need of skeptical Thomas.

Jesus’ instructions to Thomas are not inconsistent with those given to Mary. His instructions to Mary and Thomas are personalized to fit their individual issues. With Jesus, one size does not fit all. There are no cookie-cutter methods of relating to people in Jesus’ play book.


Jesus Deals With Mary as an Individual

Jesus urged Mary to take the next step in view of her individual need. He invited Thomas to take the next step based upon his individual need for empirical proof. Mary needed to recognize that Jesus had a Father, an eternal Father to whom He needed to return. So, He urged her to let go of her small views of Him.


Jesus Deals With Thomas as an Individual

Thomas needed to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This is precisely why he urged Thomas to take the next step and examine the empirical evidence available: “Put your finger…Do not continue in your unbelief, but believe.”


No Inconsistency, No Cookies

So, there is no inconsistency. The path through the snarling dogs of inconsistency is safe after all. Jesus simply adapted His strategy and words to meet the need of the individual, whether that individual was benumbed and confused Mary or doubting and skeptical Thomas.

He will adapt His strategy with you as well. You can expect such from Jesus. He knows you and your issues and won’t relate to you as baker to a cookie batch.


Do You Identify with Mary or Thomas?

Can you identify with either Mary’s desperate grip on Jesus or with Thomas’ doubt? If so, then ask Jesus for direction. He will listen to what you say just as He heard Thomas’ words of skepticism. He will show you how to take the next step as He did with Mary and Thomas.

His invitation will be personal and individualized according to your mental need. He knows your need. He understands your need. He will relate to you as an individual, as the person that you are. His care for you and His pursuit of you will be as personal as your fingerprints. Jesus is Lord, but He is also a personal Lord.


Take the Next Step

So, if you are stuck in a ditch with a miniature view of Jesus or are struggling with the astounding claim of a bodily resurrection of Jesus, take the next step. Go to Jesus or ask Him to meet up with you. When you meet, talk to Him. Listen for His answer. He will address your thinking.

Look for His followers who can give you a well-thought -out and Scripturally-based answer. Meet up with His gathered community.


Jesus Will Not Dismiss Your Concerns

Examine Scripture carefully. Avoid Hollywood’s cinematic, misleading views of Jesus. Ask questions of sisters and brothers who know Scripture well and who will validate your questions and concerns. Jesus did not dismiss the legitimate concerns of Mary or Thomas. He validated them and addressed them honestly but truthfully.


Jesus Will Not Sugar Coat His Answers

He didn’t sugar coat His replies to Mary or Thomas. He didn’t water down His answers. His reply to Mary seems cold. His reply to Thomas was stern, but both responses flowed from the inner spring of His love. Jesus’ love seeks the highest good in the one loved.

Stern words are beneficial to us when they are motivated by love, designed to make us better followers of Jesus.[8] Jesus honestly and lovingly addressed their faulty thinking and urged them to take the next step.

He will do the same for you. But He won’t sugar coat His entreaties to you. But He will tell you the truth because He loves you. He wants the best for you. He wants you back on the road again headed in His direction.


Why Stay Stuck in a Ditch?

There are answers to your concerns about Jesus, whether they are rooted in skepticism or confusion. While they are not simplistic, they just might be simple. So, why stay stuck in a ditch of doubt or skepticism? You were meant by God to travel on the road of faith in Jesus. Isn’t it time for you to get back on the road again?[9]

The ditch is no place for men and women chosen to walk with God, walkers destined for eternity. Take the next step today. I’ll look for you on the road so I can walk with you and listen to the story of how Jesus helped you take the next step and get back on the road again.


Thank you for reading this.



[1] Magdala is a small town on the southeastern shore of Lake Galilee. John designates Mary as “Mary of Magdala” to distinguish her from “Mary of Bethany”—a village located near Jerusalem.  So, “Magdala” is not Mary’s last name, but simply the town where she came from. Other people are distinguished in similar geographical fashion: “Saul of Tarsus,” “Jesus of Nazareth.”

[2] Mary of Magdala has suffered for too long with the reputation of being a prostitute, a designation unsupported by Scripture. It was a sermon by Pope Gregory (d. 604) that attached four tires to this false claim. The claim has picked up additional horsepower and rolled on these four tires right onto the big stage; the blockbuster films Jesus Christ Superstar, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Passion of the Christ all portray Mary as a prostitute.  All three films are either blasphemous, completely false, or misleading. None of these films are accurate or represent the portrayal of Jesus (or Mary) located in the four Gospels. But they are extremely popular because they are entertaining and titillating, catering to Americans’ entitlement to be amused. So—since many Christians learn their theology from entertainment venues, viz., blockbuster films, television, Facebook, and popular Christian music and books, instead of the careful examination of Scripture--it is no wonder that few people know the truth about Mary. A prostitute she was not. She is noted as one of Jesus’ female disciples who appeared in all four Gospels; she helped provide financial support for His ministry (Luke 8:2-3) and is one of the first disciples to see the risen Jesus. But she is never depicted as a prostitute. More than a few people will have to ask for her forgiveness when they see her in heaven.

[3] English translations reflect Jesus’ words to Mary differently. “Do not hold onto me” or “Stop holding onto me” or “Stop touching me” are three examples. John uses a present imperative with a negative. Normally, according to the rules of Greek grammar and syntax, this signifies the breaking off of an action already in progress. Arguably, Mary grasped Jesus’ feet (Matthew 28:9) and He urged her to cease and desist. There is little difference in meaning, though, between the translations.

[4] It is important to understand that the Man whom Mary encounters is the same One she saw as crucified (19:25). The Jesus she saw crucified is the Jesus she saw at the empty tomb. Amazingly, His body still is corporeal, though it is a new body. It can pass through doors (20:19), pass through grave clothes (20:5-7), and can be touched. Jesus’ Incarnation is still an incarnation even after His resurrection. Jesus is no mere spiritual being or phantom or apparition. He has a real body that bears the scars of the crucifixion. He still has that real body today. But I wasn’t there that morning. So, I don’t know what it looked like. But I know someone who does. Ask Lee. He was there. Read about it in the 5th Gospel, the Gospel according to Lee.

[5] John 20:24.

[6] Literally in the Greek text, “the marks.”

[7] Jesus’ first meeting with the disciples was on a Sunday (John 20:19). This second meeting was also on a Sunday (John 20:26). The Christians continued to meet as a church on Sunday, the first day of the week (rather than on the Sabbath, Saturday), in remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection: “Now on the first day of the week” (Luke 24:1). “Now on the first day of the week…” (Acts 20:7). The Greek texts of these two passages (one in Luke, one in Acts) written by Luke are identical. Luke’s precision is not fortuitous. Both passages focus on a resurrection. The first (Luke) is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead after three days. The second (Acts) is Paul’s raising of a young man from the dead who fell from a three story building. The passages are intentionally aligned to parallel one another. By means of this parallel (and hundreds of others between Luke and Acts), Luke shows that Paul is Jesus’ legitimate successor because their lives run parallel to each other. These textual observations about the first day of the week validate the practice of worship by the believing community on Sunday, the first day of the week—even though it was a normal work day. Christians met for worship in the early morning (before work) and in the evening (after work).

[8] “Open rebuke is better than hidden love.” Proverbs 27:5

[9] Please forgive the necessary echo of Willie Nelson’s popular, but at the same time, hopeless hit. 


Tim Cole