He Saw and Believed
Easter Day Years A, B, and C.
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. John 20: 1 — 10
In our Reflections, our narrative style is an attempt to let the Word of Sacred Scripture speak for itself. Our notes are merely to help the reader relate to the Divine Word. Our Easter Day Reading does indeed speak for itself, and we will add only a few annotations to focus on few some special points.
We can imaging the trauma the disciples of Jesus have undergone in the past twenty-four hours. So horrific was the experience of witnessing a triple crucifixion, that everyone was stunned and simply couldn’t rouse themselves to revisit the scene and check that everything was in order. “Everyone,” that is, except for a few women who were not prepared to let anything or anyone get in their way. And their reward was very great. They were given the honour of being the first message bearers, evangelisers (see verse 18) in the New Dispensation, the New Age of Jesus Christ: a role women have continued to perform faithfully in the passing down of the Faith. Let us see how this began to unfold in our current reading. (The event reaches a beautiful climax later in the chapter, which is the subject of a reading on another occasion.)
Some Reflections on our Text
Verses 1 and 2
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the
tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw
the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other
disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have
taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where
they put him.”
On the first day of the week
The account opens with, “On the first day of the week.” Some modern translations name this as “Sunday,” but the pagan names of the week are never mentioned in Hebrew Scriptures. The Greek text calls it “sabbaton” (plural of Sabbath) but in Hebrew custom it means “Day one of the Sabbath,” i.e. the first day of the new week leading to the next Sabbath.
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.
Mary is the only woman mentioned here but in verse 2 it is clear she was not the only one. (Matthew, Mark, and Luke refer to a group of women.) When she saw that the tomb where Jesus had been laid was open, she ran immediately to Simon Peter and the young disciple, John, and told them the Lord’s body was gone.
Verses 3 —5
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not
There is much conjecture about the two disciples running to the tomb. Apart from athletic races, we seldom see two men running down the street these days! The moment they heard the message from Mary Magdalam they were off as fast as they could go. John outran Simon Peter. He took a quick look inside the tomb but waited for Peter to arrive. There are personality factors which came into play here, but there are others as well.
The previous night, to save his own life, our dear Simon Peter had denied three times that he knew anything about Jesus implying he didn’t want anything to do with Him. Despite this, in the mind of young John, St. Peter remained the leader of the apostles, appointed by the Lord Himself. In Hebrew custom he waited for his esteemed leader to catch up with him, and let him proceed first into the sacred space where the Lord had lain.
Verses 6 — 7
When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb
and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial
cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
It is interesting to note that in verse 5, St. John “saw” the burial cloths, and waited for his elder to arrive. Blessed Peter arrived and just stormed straight into the tomb without any hesitation, though not without deep respect.
Our text tells us that just as his young companion John “saw”
the burial cloths, so Peter “saw” them. St. John however, in
recording this event in his Gospel account used two different
verbs for “saw”. He distinguished his own simple glance (verse 5)
from St. Peter’s strong “intent and searching gaze” (MacRory).
This reflects the profound awe in which St. Peter was held even from the very beginning of the life of the Church. Peter was known to be a man of very deep spiritual perception, and the early Christians responded very warmly to his utterly humane and humble manner. Committed entirely to the Saviour who chose him, his influence was to extend way beyond the empire of the emperor who commanded his crucifixion.
Turning our attention again to what was visible in the tomb, MacRory makes this comment:
“St. Peter’s more searching examination discovered what
had been unnoticed by St. John. The presence of the linen
swathes, and the napkin folded and laid apart, are doubtless
mentioned as proof that Christ was truly risen. Had His
body been simply taken away to some other tomb, those
taking it, whether friends or enemies, would not have gone
to the useless trouble of removing the spice
covered-bandages and the napkin. And certainly if it had
been hurriedly stolen, such nice care would not have been
taken to fold the napkin and place it apart.”
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had
arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
St. John now followed Peter into the cave, “and he saw and believed”. Naturally, we find ourselves asking why John now came to believe not only what Mary had said (Verse 2), namely that the body had been removed, but even more.
Much of the impulse to believe that Jesus had risen from the
dead may well have come from sighting the folded linen cloths.
However, since the text (verse 2) establishes the probable
presence of a group of women, it is also very likely John was
moved to believe the report of the women, that Jesus was
risen from the dead. When St. John speaks so absolutely of
belief, as he does here, he usually means faith (MacRory).
This is a great moment in the life of St. John. What a remarkable and absolute statement he has made. Short of seeing the risen Lord in person, he could, even by what he knew up to that moment, declare his belief in the resurrection of Jesus.
Verse 9 — 10
For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had
to rise from the dead.
Then the disciples returned home.
We would hardly expect anyone to “understand the scripture” St. John is referring to. This comment really means that they had not, up to this time, completely comprehended the whole spectrum of Old Testament teaching and prophecy pointing to our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. That had to take time to become clear.
The words, “had to rise from the dead” indicate a necessity
based on the divine will and purpose. (Newman and Nida)
The two realised there was nothing to be gained by staying there any longer and so returned home — i.e. to where they were staying temporarily in Jerusalem.
What we have read is, of course, only the very beginning of the exciting period following our Lord’s resurrection. It has a simple, honest beauty about it. But it also begins, even at this early stage, to show our Lord’s dearest friends straining to put it all together and make sense of it. We too need time to gear ourselves for a greater understanding of this unique event. The Gospel accounts provide us with a wonderful guide to do this. So, let’s take the time and reflect upon it. We offer two items to help you in your reflection:
For those who would like a detailed study resource
on the readings for Sunday, please visit:
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just scroll down the page.
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Appendix — St. John 20: 1 — 10
For further reading on this passage we offer a comment by J. C. Ryle.
We offer a chapter from the commentary by Bishop John Charles Ryle, D.D. who published this work in 1908. It seemed of particular interest, and complements some of the more modern commentaries on St John’s Gospel. If we can see beyond the old King James version used, the lack of inclusive language, and a few areas of theological disagreement, we will still find in this article an excellent aid to help us in our Easter week meditations.
“The chapter we have now begun takes us from Christ’s death to Christ’s resurrection. Like Matthew, Mark and Luke, John dwells on these two great events with peculiar fullness and particularity. And we need not wonder. The whole of saving Christianity hinges on the two facts, that Christ died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. The chapter before our eyes deserves special attention. Of all the four evangelists, none supplies such deeply interesting evidence of the resurrection, as the disciple whom Jesus loved.
We are taught in the passage before us, that those who love Christ most are those who have received most benefit from Him.
The first whom St John names among those who came to Christ’s sepulchre, is Mary Magdalene. The history of this faithful woman, no doubt, is hidden in much obscurity. A vast amount of needless obloquy (abuse) has be heaped upon her memory as if she was once an habitual sinner against the seventh commandment. # Yet there is literally no evidence whatever that she was anything of the kind! But we are distinctly told that she was one out of whom the Lord had cast “seven devils” (Mark 16: 9; Luke 8: 2), — one who had been subjected in a peculiar way to Satan’s possession, — and one whose gratitude to our Lord for deliverance was a gratitude that knew no bounds. In short, of all our Lord’s followers on earth, none seem to have loved Him so much as Mary Magdalene. None felt that they owed so much to Christ. None felt so strongly that there was nothing too great to do for Christ. Hence, as Bishop Andrews beautifully puts it, — “She was last at His cross, and first at His grave. She stayed longest there and was soonest here. She could not rest till she was up to seek Him. She sought Him while it was yet dark, even before she had light to seek Him by.” In a word, having received much, she loved much; and loving much, she did much, in order to prove the reality of her love.
# the seventh commandment ― Ryle is here referring to the Commandment
The case before us throws broad and clear light on a question, which ought to be deeply interesting to every true hearted servant of Christ. How is it that many who profess and call themselves Christians, do so little for the Saviour whose name they bear? How is it that many, whose faith and grace it would be uncharitable to deny, work so little, give so little, say so little, take so little pains, to promote Christ’s cause, and bring glory to Christ in the world? — These questions admit of only one answer. It is a low sense of debt and obligation to Christ, which is the amount of the whole matter. Where sin is not felt at all, nothing is done; and where sin is little felt, little is done. The man who is deeply conscious of his own guilt and corruption, and deeply convinced that without the blood and intercession of Christ he would sink deservedly into the lowest hell, this is the man who will spend and be spent for Jesus, and think he can never do enough to show forth His praise. Let us daily pray that we may see the sinfulness of sin, and the amazing grace of Christ, more clearly and distinctly. Then, and then only, shall we cease to be cool and lukewarm, and slovenly in our work for Jesus. Then, and then only, shall we understand the burning zeal of Mary; and comprehend what Paul meant when he said, “The love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge that if One died for all, then were all dead: and that He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Cor 5: 14 —15.)
We are taught, secondly, in these verses, that there are widely different temperaments in different believers.
This is a point which is curiously brought out in the conduct of Peter and John, when Mary Magdalene told them that the Lord’s body was gone. We are told that they both ran to the sepulchre; but John the disciple whom Jesus loved, outran Peter, and reached the empty grave first. Then comes out the difference between the two men. John, of the two more gentle, quiet, tender, reserved, retiring, deep-feeling, stooped down and looked in, but went no further. Peter, more hot, and zealous, and impulsive, and fervent, and forward, cannot be content without going down into the sepulchre, and actually seeing with his own eyes. Both, we may be sure, were deeply attached to the Lord. The hearts of both, at this critical juncture, were full of hopes, and fears, and anxieties, and expectations, all tangled together. Yet each behaves in his own characteristic fashion. We need not doubt that these things were intentionally written for our learning.
Let us learn, from the case before us, to make allowances for wide varieties in the inward character of believers. To do so will save us much trouble in the journey of life and prevent many an uncharitable thought. Let us not judge brethren harshly, and set them down in a low place, because they do not see or feel things exactly as we see and feel and because things do not affect or strike them just as they affect and strike us. The flowers in the Lord’s garden are not all of one colour and one scent, though they are all planted by one Spirit. The subjects of His kingdom are not all exactly one tone and temperament, though they all love the same Saviour, and their names are in the same book of life. The Church of Christ has some in its ranks who are like Peter, and some who are like John; and a place for all, and a work for all to do. Let us love all who love Christ in sincerity, and thank God that they love Him at all. The great thing is to love Jesus.
We are taught, finally, in these verses, that there may be much ignorance even in true believers.
This is a point, which is brought out here with singular force and distinctness. John himself, the writer of this Gospel, records of himself and his companion Peter, “As yet they knew not the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead.” How truly wonderful this seems! For three long years these two leading Apostles had heard our Lord speak of His own resurrection as a fact, and yet they had not understood Him. Again and again He had staked the truth of His Messiahship on His rising from the dead, and yet they had never taken in His meaning. We little realize the power over the mind which is exercised by wrong teaching in childhood, and by early prejudices imbibed in our youth. Surely the Christian minister # has little right to complain of ignorance of Peter and John, under the teaching of Christ Himself.
# Christian minister ― Ryle is referring to any member of the clergy.
After all we must remember that true grace, and not head knowledge, is the one thing needful. We are in the hands of a merciful and compassionate Saviour, who passes by and pardons much ignorance, when He sees “a heart right in the sight of God.” Some things indeed we must know, and without knowing them we cannot be saved. Our own sinfulness and guilt, the office of Christ as a Saviour, the necessity of repentance and faith, — such things as these are essential to salvation. But he that knows these things may, in other respects be a very ignorant man. In fact, the extent to which one man may have grace together with much ignorance, and another may have much knowledge and yet no grace is one of the greatest mysteries in religion, and one which the last day alone will unfold. Let us always seek knowledge, and be ashamed of ignorance. But let us not despair because our knowledge is imperfect, and, above all, let us make sure that, like Peter and John, we have grace and right hearts.”
End of article
Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in
He Saw and Believed
Easter Day Year B John 20: 1 — 10
1. It is often said of Mary Magdalen that she loved so much because she had been forgiven so much. This realisation enabled Mary to share the Gospel Good News of forgiveness so freely with the people of her times. She is thus a good example to us in our work of evangelisation. Perhaps our starting point might be to love much because we know we have been forgiven so much.
2. The people who feature in our account were of very different personality types. That should encourage us all to be ourselves and thus be authentic and genuine in our interactions with the world about us.
“The flowers in God’s garden are not all one colour
3. We note that the disciples believed, but as yet did not understand. How important that fact is. Some Christians have a tendency to insist that they will not believe some aspect of the Christian Faith until they fully understand it. Certainly we should not be so naive as to believe everything in religion which crosses our path. We ought to be discerning and beware of frauds.
The essence of our Faith is believing, not so much in what is taught but rather in Who is teaching it. Jesus is the Word: the Teacher and the Teaching of God. It is in Him we ought to believe. If we follow Him, understanding will grow, and grow and grow.
St. Mary Magdalen, Saints Peter and John believed in our Lord and His teaching — but their understanding came sometimes only slowly. We can hardly expect things to be different for us. If we are faithful as were they — then our understanding will expand and deepen as God permits.
Let us pray for one another that we will have the robust faith of St. Mary Magdalen.
John 20: 1 — 10
Easter Day Years A, B, and C.
1. On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to
2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other
3 So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to
4 They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than
5 he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did
6 When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the
7 and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the
8 Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had
9 For they did not yet understand the scripture that he
10 Then the disciples returned home.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,
An Easter Prayer
When we celebrate Easter, we are part of Easter.
Lord, this is the day of Your triumph. Your Church will celebrate it for eight days, in the Hebrew tradition. The Sacred Liturgy draws us in, and we are back at the beginning, back at the first Easter morning. This Gospel has to do with three people whom You love very much and who in turn love You more than life. Mary’s love is a woman’s love: it drives her to the tomb while it is still dark. Immediately she is aware that the stone has been rolled away from the entrance.
When she looks inside and sees that the tomb is empty, she rushes to tell Peter and John about it. I think she knows that You would want her to do that. She cries, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
They hurry off. John is younger and speedier and reaches Your tomb first. He looks in and sees the linen cloths lying there, but does not enter. Peter is Your choice as head of the apostles, a fact that John remembers even in his excitement. It is right that he should enter the tomb first. Peter finally arrives, he enters the rocky cavity and sees the linen cloths and handkerchief with which Your sacred body had been wrapped. Then John also enters and says of himself that he sees and believes, for as yet, they do not understand the Scripture, that You must rise from the dead.
The two disciples go back again to their home. There You will see them, and they will understand better. And as understanding grows, so will their love for You build up. Some time later, when he has lived and worked in the glow of Your resurrection as senior Apostle of Your Church, Peter will write to his flock: “Lay aside, therefore, all malice, and all deceit, and pretense, and envy, and all slander. Crave as new born babes, pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow to salvation; if indeed, you have tasted that the Lord is sweet.” ( 1 Peter 2: 1 — 3. )
If we die with Jesus, we rise with Jesus.
Lord Jesus, in the third millennium we can take part in the worship at Easter, and look back with new appreciation on its meaning and its joy. We cannot share the initial bewilderment of the apostles and the holy women, for they have had to grow into the unheard of and absolutely new idea of resurrection of a dead man to life again. But it is less necessary to share their bewilderment than to share their love for You and the new direction that Your resurrection gives to one’s life.
The future lies ahead for us just as it did for them. It must be a future growth in union with You. We remember at this time St. Paul’s wonderful teaching, “All you who have been baptised in Christ, put on Christ”. You have risen from death in order to come and dwell and grow in us.
Lord Jesus, in this holy season of the Christian Year, we renew all the vows, promises and intentions which were part of our baptism. As the Blessed Apostle Paul teaches us, we have put You on in our baptism, and now You are more than ever at home in us. Please help us to remember at all times that we are members of Your Household, and therefore should find our consolation by abiding in You.
There is no room for despair.
It does not escape us, Lord, that there is a seemingly huge gap between Your mind, Your principles and way of life, and the way You see us acting.
By participating in the annual celebration of Your death and resurrection, may Your mercy permit our faith, each day, to continue to increase.
Increase our faith;
Strengthen our love;
Finish what You have begun.
BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!
[Adapted from and based on the prayer in “Meditating The Gospels”,
by Emeric Lawrence, O.S.B. St. John’s Abbey, Minnesota.
The text has been altered only to meet the needs of Internet use and
both the traditional and contemporary worship.]