Exegetical Exercise

paiting Mary Magdalene at empty tomb

Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb from the vantage point of 16th century Venice

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, April 16 is actually two texts, John 20:1-10 and 1 Peter 1:3-5 & 8-9. Here are my notes on these texts:

John 20:1-10 / First impressions:

I can’t help taking a “real events” perspective on this text, thinking about how Mary Magdalene (or anyone, I) would feel in the wake of the horrible death of someone incredibly important to me, so anxious to get to the necessary tasks that I can’t get a full night’s sleep but am up long enough before the crack of dawn to have gotten washed and dressed and on the job … so there is a profound, hidden, unexpressed anguish in this scene – which makes it a lot like real life, considering that there is profound, hidden, unexpressed anguish all around us all the time, on the freeway or in a department store, or anywhere – not everyone all the time, of course, but someone any time, and everyone some time, and mostly the other lives we bump up against in the course of the day are mostly hidden from us, in anything but their most superficial dimension.

Running early in the morning had to seem out of place – surely?

/ Characters, Verbs, and additional textual features

It’s “early in the morning” and “still dark” – before sunrise; OK, because Sabbath presumably ends at nightfall the preceding night. Early. Of course, when it’s dark in the gospel of John, it probably also means ignorance is going on.

Mary Magdalene is depicted as coming alone. The synoptics always have a group of women, but Mary Magdalene is always included in that group. John – simplifying for effect?

Mary M. came, saw – the stone rolled away, ran, went – to Simon Peter and one other disciple (again – a subset? Why emphasize these two?) and said – “they” have taken away the Lord – who are “they”? She may not even have any clear idea, maybe this is exactly like what we ourselves mean when we say “they” – someone not us, usually someone we don’t care for, but only vaguely known, in fact, unknown.

Peter and the other disciple set out, went, are running;

the other disciple outran, reached, bent down, looked, saw – linen wrappings, did not go in … we’re thinking of a “tomb” like a cave, more like a room …;

Simon Peter came following, went in, saw – linen wrappings, and a cloth – sudden burst of detail – is this like trauma, and the odd specific details a person recalls after trauma?

The other disciple went in, “saw and believed”

There’s a staged description of sight verbs, assigned to the different characters: Mary Magdalene sees the stone rolled away; the other disciple sees the linen wrappings; Simon Peter sees the linen wrappings and the cloth, up close; the other disciple finally “saw and believed.” So – should we imagine the sun is coming up as these events are taking place? So, now instead of being dark it’s at last light, at least enough to “see and believe”?

It doesn’t say what he believed. Either the audience knows, or it is more encompassing than something that can be said in a few words … like a whole narrative or detailed argument, compressed into a moment, which is how an insight into reality can feel – ? Or … ?

In Greek, the disciples go back to “their” – their what? (well, in v. 19 it will be their friends, but in Jerusalem; in chapter 21, it will be their whole old way of life, fishing and all of that) – so maybe this is an echo of the “they” who might have rolled away the stone – “you know, just ‘back,’ to ‘their,’ you know …” – it’s open. As in – if you were them, where/what would you go back to?

“as yet they did not understand the scripture …” – so, later they will understand the scripture? But at that point it will be “oh, why didn’t we see that …” – or maybe, that understanding will depend on (re-)interpretation in light of these events …

/ “Focus statement,” any more questions

“The resurrection is an event that “dawns on” people, even people who have been told and taught about it, and who have direct, convincing, personal experience. The full significance of the event is not immediately obvious – is it, in fact, as yet understood?”

(Someone asked me in class once, something like what determines whether a person believes “this” … this still strikes me as a profound and imponderable question.)

1 Peter 1:3-9 / First impressions

The new birth (into a living hope and an inheritance) is now, and is a gift; salvation is future (going to be revealed v. 5;) but also happening now (being received, v. 9).

The protective power of God comes through faith (v. 5), as does salvation of the soul (v. 9), the “outcome” of faith.

Emphasis is on future expectation, which feeds back onto present experience.

/ Letter form, other analysis

Following the form of an ancient letter, v. 3 gives thanks – maybe in a liturgical form that is held over from Jewish practice – but the attribution of rule attaches to Jesus, Lord, Christ.

Jesus Christ will be revealed (future). Love of Jesus is present – based on what? Future expectation? Apostolic testimony? The resurrection of Christ from the dead? Other personal experience? Maybe the latter: belief and rejoicing are attributed to receiving the outcome of faith/salvation, which seems to be perceptible.

Commentary points out the patron-client pattern present in this passage, with Jesus Lord as patron, church members as clients, loyalty demonstrated through trials (vv. 6-7) rewarded by “praise and glory and honor” from the satisfied Lord at a future point; so, this fits with a pattern familiar in the ancient Mediterranean world.

/ Focus statement, any more questions

“The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead radically transforms life’s possibilities; those who find themselves born into the world in which this event took place are animated by hope and their ongoing experience of salvation.”

“Although you have not seen him, you love him” (v. 8); how? presumably second-generation Christians, who had testimony of first-generation Christians to go on for their affection for Jesus; what is love of this kind like, concretely? Who do we, for instance, love because someone we know and care about loves them? (like, the way we might love the great-grandmother or great-grandfather we never met, but have heard loving stories told about …) What is it like to love someone because they have been presented to us as loveable, maybe in the past, or maybe even today but at some distance? (like, the way we might love Abraham Lincoln, or love the Dalai Lama) How does this translate into or compare with contemporary Christian love for Jesus? What is this experience like for people (maybe more than one sort of experience)?

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About HAT

Heather Thiessen (HAT) is a happily married 60-ish, Bible-reading, Presbyterian Church Sunday School teaching and choir singing, small fuel efficient car driving, still pretty much 2nd wave feminist and generally out lesbian Hoosier mom. (There are no monochrome states.) From time to time she teaches religious studies to students at a small liberal arts college in Louisville, Kentucky.
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