After Jesus rose from the dead, He told Mary to stop clinging to Him, but then told Thomas to touch His hands. Why the difference?
After Jesus' crucifixion, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to finish preparing His body. When she arrived, the stone had been rolled away and Jesus' body was gone. She asked Simon Peter and the Apostle John to confirm what she saw, but while they ran to tell the other disciples, she stayed at the tomb, distraught, because her Savior was missing.
Jesus cleared up her confusion by appearing to her. His appearance was a far cry from the bloodied, beaten shell that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had laid in the tomb. His body was healed, save for the holes in his hands, feet, and side; and more importantly He was alive. Understandably, Mary didn't recognize Him at first. Jesus called her name, and she realized who He was. Her response was immediate and so emotional that Jesus said to her "Do not cling to me…" (John 19:38—20:18).
Shortly after, Jesus appeared to the disciples, but Thomas was absent. Despite firsthand accounts from the other disciples, Thomas remained convinced that Jesus was dead and they were all deluded. "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe," he said (John 20:25).
Eight days later, Jesus accommodated his doubt by appearing to Thomas in the presence of the other disciples. "Put your finger here, and see my hands," He said to Thomas. "And put out your hand and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe." (See John 20:27).
Why the difference? Why did Jesus tell Mary to stop touching Him, then turn around and invite Thomas to touch Him?
The answer is alluded to in John 20:17. "Jesus said to her, 'Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, "I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God."'" Mary apparently wasn't just hugging Jesus as a friend or touching Him to convince herself He was real. She was clinging to Him, with all her might, to keep Him from ever leaving her again. It was a desperate act, meant to control Him and keep herself from being hurt again.
Jesus gives her a reason as to why she can't keep Him with her—He has to ascend to the Father. He cannot stay on earth as He had before. He has a job to do, and as much as He obviously cares for her, He cannot indulge her feelings of fear. In fact, He already addressed the issue of her fear in John 14:16-17 when He announced that when He left, He would send the Counselor to be with her, and all His followers, forever.
Thomas' situation was completely different. Jesus' invitation to touch Him was more reprimand than comfort. If Thomas couldn't accept the eye-witness testimony of his fellow disciples—testimony that finally illuminated all of Jesus' subtle warnings about His crucifixion and resurrection—then Jesus would indulge him by offering the hands, feet, and side that still bore the wounds from the cross.
There's no indication that Thomas took Him up on the offer. Instead, he immediately exclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28).
Mary and Thomas had to learn the same lesson modern Christians face—how do we trust a Jesus we can't see? How do we trust He really is alive and won't leave us? We have faith. We trust the accounts of the disciples. And because of that, we understand His power and presence in a way they never did. As Jesus said to Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29).
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