A Faith That Does Justice engages The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola[1] (Exercises) to discern God’s will and live faith in action on behalf of all God’s people. When appropriately adapted they offer a way for all people of good will to do the same.

The Fourth Week invites us to share the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ resurrection.[2] Here we present Jesus’ Appearance to Mary Magdalene[3] in the second ending of Mark’s gospel (16:9-19) and supplement it with John’s description of this same appearance story.[4]

Mark’s original gospel ends with three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, fleeing from the tomb where Jesus’ body had been lain in fear, while the reader is left to decide his response to the Easter message proclaimed by the angelic figure the women have just encountered (16:8). The second ending to Mark’s gospel (Mk 16:9-11), the work of a scribe, adds three appearance stories that make it more compatible with the endings of the other gospels and offer a rationale for future readers to believe in the risen Jesus. The first is presented here.

Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, (Jesus) appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping. But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. (Mk 16:9-11)

The bare essentials are affirmed. Jesus has risen; he has appeared to Mary Magdalene; and her experience has not been believed by Jesus’ disciples. John’s gospel offers a more developed account of these same events.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes (Jn 20:1-10).

The evangelist uses Mary’s arrival at the tomb on the first day of the week while it is still dark as a literary technique to indicate a setting where faith is lacking. Throughout John’s gospel there is a constant interplay between light and darkness, as the light of faith gradually emerges from the darkness of unfaith in a variety of scenes (1:5; 3:2; 6:17; 8:12; 9:4; 11:10; 12:35, 46; 13:30; 19:39).[5]

Mary’s claim to Simon Peter and the Beloved Disciple, John, that “they” have taken the body of Jesus and “we” do not know where they have laid it establishes their unified unbelief that Jesus has been raised from the dead and it also presents a dichotomous relationship between Jesus’ detractors and followers.[6]

At the tomb, it is Peter, the leader of the early church, who enters first and finds the linen wrappings lying there, the cloth that covered Jesus’ head rolled up, and Jesus’ body nowhere to be found. Peter’s response is not characterized, although it is presumed by most he does not yet believe. Then John, who had already seen the linen wrappings entered and “saw and believed.” However, we also read, “they did not understand the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” This discrepancy suggests two different sources were interwoven into John’s version of this scene. Taken as a whole, they convey the notion of some doubt that Jesus was raised from the dead and that his disciples were only in the beginning stages of moving from darkness to light, from unbelief to belief.[7]

In contrast, by the time John’s gospel was written (c.100 AD), the reader had access to the scriptural accounts of God’s action in raising Jesus from the dead (20:9) and also of the Spirit that now abided in her (14:16-17, 25-26; 16:12-14) so she might live with faith in the risen Jesus. While Peter and John have returned to their homes without full faith, the reader is left to decide if she will claim that faith.[8]

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because 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 Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her. (Jn 20:11-18)

Mary stands alone at the tomb and still without any understanding of what has occurred. Looking inside, she sees not the linen cloths and the head covering previously seen by the two disciples, but two angels in white, one at the head and the other at the foot of where Jesus had lain. Their presence is intended to indicate God’s active intervention in raising Jesus from the dead. They ask the still faithless Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She confesses to them her anguish in not knowing where “they” have laid Jesus’ body. Then, turning around she encounters Jesus but does not recognize him, mistaking him for the gardener. Mary asks where she might find the body. When Jesus calls her by name, Mariam, Mary, she recognizes him and responds with the Aramaic name by which his followers had addressed him during his ministry, Rabbouni, Teacher. A light has entered Mary’s life and she has come to a partial sense of faith in the risen Jesus.[9]

Jesus’ command that Mary not touch him lets her know he is in transition to his glorified state, having completed the task given to him from before time (4:34; 5:36; 17:4; 19:30). Instead, Jesus tells Mary to inform his disciples he is ascending to his Father and God, who he makes clear is now also their Father and God, an indication the risen Jesus considers his disciples as brothers. Mary goes forth and expresses now a full sense of faith, “I have seen the Lord.” She has become the apostle to the apostles, journeying from darkness and unfaith to partial faith and now to full light and belief that God has raised Jesus from the dead.[10]

As the scene ends, the reader is challenged to place the story in the larger context of John’s gospel in much the same way Mark has done. For John, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (1:5). For Mary Magdalene the darkness has lifted from her. She now sees with the eyes of faith and has proclaimed it to Jesus’ disciples.

Today, we are the people who stand at the empty tomb where Jesus had lain. The question for us remains the same as it did for Jesus’ original disciples. Will we move from darkness to light, proclaim our faith in the risen Jesus, and go forth to announce his salvific message to a world still so in need of redemption?

Let us pray for the grace to receive the light of faith in the risen Jesus and rejoice in his victory over death. In doing so, let us also trust that the God who raised him from the dead will do the same for us if we remain faithful to his call to follow Jesus and proclaim his salvific message to the ends of the earth (Mk 16:20).

[1] The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola are a series of Christian contemplations and meditations written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th‑century Spanish priest and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Divided into four thematic “weeks” of variable length, they are designed to be carried out over a period of approximately 30 days. They were composed to help participants in religious retreats to discern the will of God and commit to following Jesus in this world whatever the cost. When appropriately adapted, they can also help people of other faith traditions discern God’s will and engage problems facing society in the 21st century.

[2] R.E. Brown, “The Gospel of John: XIII-XXI,” in: W.F. Albright and D.N. Freedman (eds.) The Anchor Bible, Vol. 29A, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1970), 966. The resurrection is an eschatological experience that can never be adequately expressed in words. Nevertheless, Christian faith in Jesus’ victory over death has attempted to offer a semblance of its meaning in several ways, including: 1) referring to the risen Jesus as the high priest who entered the heavenly holy of holies with his own blood that was shed in sacrifice. This view offers a direct progression from crucifixion to ascension without an intervening act of resurrection (Heb 4:14; 6:19-20; 9:1-28); and 2) referring to the risen Jesus through (a) short formulae that are believed to provide the earliest information about the resurrection experience (1 Cor 15:3-8), and (b) appearance stories in the gospels and Acts of the Apostles.

[3] L.J. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), Section 300.

[4] M.E. Boring, Mark: A Commentary, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 451-53. That the original ending to Mark’s gospel occurred at 16:8 is held to be certain. Boring claims scribes who copied Mark’s gospel for dissemination to the churches, and the evangelists Matthew and Luke (and perhaps John), believed his ending was inadequate. For this reason, 16:9-19 was added, making it more compatible with the resurrection stories of the other gospels. See also, F.J. Moloney, The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2002), 355.

[5] F.J. Moloney, “The Gospel of John,” in: D.J. Harrington (ed.) Sacra Pagina, Vol. 4, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1998), 518.

[6] Ibid., 518-19.

[7] Ibid., 519-20. See also, Brown, “The Gospel of John: XIII-XXI,” 1001-02, 1005-07. Brown states the Beloved Disciple’s movement to faith in the risen Jesus before Peter and the other disciples was due to his deep sense of love for Jesus that was reciprocated during the latter’s time on this earth. For the evangelist, John, it is the primacy of love that allows Jesus’s presence to be detected in the appearance stories.

[8] Ibid., 520-21.

[9] Ibid., 524-26.

[10] Ibid., 526-27. See also, Brown, “The Gospel of John: XIII-XXI,” 1012. Brown comments that Mary’s attempt to hold onto Jesus mistakenly confuses the appearance of the risen Jesus with his coming permanent presence among his disciples. That permanent presence will manifest itself by the gift of the Spirit that will come after Jesus ascension to the Father. It is for this reason Jesus commands Mary to go and prepare the disciples for the Spirit’s arrival.