Gospel Of Sunday 09 April: John 20, 1-9

John 20, 1-9: The Empty Tomb

20 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Today I share with you a short meditation on the Gospel, with particular reference to the theme of mercy.


Structure: harmonisation of heterogeneous material:

a) the story of several women who, having gone to the tomb, find it empty (Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 23:55-24:11): in John there is a trace of this in vv. 1-2 and 11-13;

b) the story of some disciples who also go to the tomb, and return perplexed (Lk 24:12, 24): in John the role of the beloved disciple, the type of every believer, is emphasised;

c) a story of Jesus’ appearance to the Magdalene (Mt 28:9-10; Mk 16:9-11): John’s tradition is perhaps the oldest.

John 20, 1-9 / Text:

V. 1: – on the day after the Sabbath: lett. “on the one of the Sabbaths”: this is the first true Sabbath, the day of the eschatological feast;

– while it was still dark: theological meaning (in Mk 16:1-2 “the sun had already risen”, in Mt 28:1 “at dawn”);

– Mary Magdalene: in Mt 28:1 there is also “the other Mary”, in Mk 16:1 “Mary of James and Salome”, in Lk 24:10 also “Joan, Mary of James and other women”;

– tomb: probably arcosolium-shaped, with semi-circular niches dug into the side walls of the burial chamber, about 0.80 m from the ground, 0.5-1 m deep, with a small opening, outwards, of less than a metre in height;

V. 2: Simon and John are the only ones who followed Jesus in the Passion;

V. 5: – bandages: these are the othonìa, the linen: but the synoptics speak of a sindon, a sheet (except Lk 24:12, which is perhaps an addition): perhaps it is a plural of extension, meaning “linen cloth”;

V. 6: – lying there (keìmena): on the hollow of the arosolium, not “on the ground” (!);

V. 7: – the shroud (soudàrion), the handkerchief that held the mouth of the deceased closed;

V. 8: – saw and believed: perhaps better “began to believe” (aorist ingressive).

The burial cloths

a) Proof of resurrection?

As far back as the 5th century, Ammonius of Alexandria claimed that the resurrected body of Jesus would emerge from the burial clothes in an immaterial manner. Various scholars (Balagué, Omer…) therefore think that the beloved disciple believed because of the way he found the burial cloths, which would have remained, impregnated with the aromatic oils, upright and stiff as if the corpse had vanished inside his mummy.

Let us give a literal translation of this passage: “And stooping down (John) sees the linen lying (drooping?) yet he did not enter. Then Simon Peter, who was following him, came in and entered the tomb and noticed the linen lying (drooping?) and the shroud that was on his head, not lying (drooping?) like the linen, but differently, rolled up inside, in its place (= where it should have been)” (Jn 20:5-7).

– “The linen”: the translation “bandages” is untenable because in Greek “bandages” is said “keirìai” (cf. Jn 11:44: the bandages of Lazarus’ corpse). Here instead it is “othónia” i.e. generic “linen cloths”.

– The shroud”: handkerchief (for wiping sweat). Here we would mean chin cloth (cf. Jn 11:44: Lazarus has his face bound round with a shroud).

– The participle “in-rolled” (“entetyligménon”) in Greek is a perfect, which thus indicates an action in the past whose effects endure in the present, and should therefore be understood as “continued to be rolled up as it had been put on”.

– “Lying”: this is the literal translation of the word “kéimena”: it is not correct to translate “on the ground”. The word ‘lying’ put in brackets is not a translation, but an interpretation. It would have been the case that the burial linens, no longer containing the corpse, would have ‘sagged’; the shroud, on the other hand, which was stiffer, would not have sagged like the linens, but would have remained rolled up inside the shroud in its place, i.e. in the place where it logically should have been and thus its presence would have remained visible on the outside.

– “eis èva tòpon”: lit.: in one place; i.e.: in the same place

– “Then the other disciple who had first come to the tomb also entered, and he saw and believed” (Jn 20:8). First of all, note the presence of the double “and” linking seeing and believing: the co-ordination introduced by “and he saw and believed” is much closer in Greek than in Italian. It expresses a link of cause and effect: the disciple believed by virtue of what he saw. That sight induced him to believe in the resurrection: for if someone had wanted to take away the corpse, he could not have left the linen like that. The disciple thus derives from the arrangement of the linen the “proof” of Jesus’ resurrection and thus believes the Scriptures (cf. Jn 2:22: “When therefore he was raised from the dead, the disciples remembered …, and believed the Scripture and the speech which Jesus had spoken”).

b) Proof that there had been no theft of a corpse?

But it is not clear why such a miraculous arrangement did not also convince Peter. It is perhaps more probable that the beloved disciple, seeing the carefully repaired linen, thought a body snatching unlikely. Already Chrysostom said: “Whoever had removed the body, would not first have undressed it, nor have taken the trouble to remove and roll up the shroud and leave it in a separate place” (Homilies on John, 85.4).

c) The “theology of the garment

Let us also not forget that throughout the Bible there is a “theology of clothing”: not only does clothing have important symbolic value (think of the white garments typical of the sphere of the divine or of Jesus’ stripping of his tunic before crucifying him), but also nudity can recall the primitive paradisiacal situation of Adam, the friend of God.

Here Jesus no longer needs human garments, because “Christ having risen from the dead will die no more” (Rom 6:9), unlike Lazarus who emerges from the tomb wrapped in burial cloths (Jn 11:14), because he had to die again.

Recognising the Risen One

In the various lambing delays (20:11-18; 21:4-7; Lk 24:31-35) we find different meanings:

a) apologetic: the disciples first doubted (they were not gullible);

b) revelatory: between the body of Jesus before the resurrection and the resurrected body there is continuity (can be touched: 20:20-27; eats with the disciples: Lk 24:41-42; Acts 10:41), but also profound diversity (passes through walls: 20:19): cf. 1 Cor 15:42-45;

c) theological: it is always God who takes the first step towards us: Mary of Magdala believes after she is called by name, the disciples of Emmaus at the breaking of the bread, the disciples after the miraculous catch: all that remains is for man to “turn towards him” (20:16), “open his eyes” (Lk 24:31), throw himself towards Jesus (Jn 20:7).

Good Mercy to all!

Whoever would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some in-depth analysis, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

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