There can be no mistake as to Jesus’ true identity.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said,“and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir,if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
Have you ever made the mistake of speaking to someone but not recognizing who they really are? Or maybe a time where you had confused someone with someone else? I remember this one time when I was kid and my parents took us kids to the local flea markets. I wandered off and lost my way, and was trying to find my parents again. At one point I thought I saw my dad – A man standing far off wearing a similar shirt. I ran up to him, “Hey dad!” He turns around and it’s a complete stranger. I’d mistaken him for my dad, oops!
Here in this passage we’re seeing another example of mistaken identity. Mary is having a chat with the resurrected Jesus, but she thinks he’s just the gardener! It’s a bad time to not recognize someone.
These little episodes are not just about showing the eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. These episodes invite us as readers to reflect on who we think Jesus really is, and whether we, like Mary and the other disciples, have got Jesus’ identity all wrong.
Mary, like the disciples, does not yet understand that Jesus has risen and so she does not yet see. Jesus asks her, “…Who is it you are looking for?” Who is it Mary was expecting to see? What kind of Messiah does she think Jesus is? The Messiah who did wonderful things but ultimately failed in his mission? Or the Messiah whose resurrection shows us that the new life he promised us is true?
Mary was a witness to Jesus’ resurrection of her brother Lazarus, who had been dead in the tomb for four days. It was there that Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). But Mary clearly isn’t expecting Jesus himself to return from the grave, thinking his body has been stolen by grave robbers (20:2).
But as Jesus utters her name, “Mary”, she instantly recognizes she is speaking to Jesus. As Jesus earlier said, the good shepherd “calls his own sheep by name…and his sheep follow him because they hear his voice” (Jn. 10:3-4).
The fact that this story is included adds weight John’s claim about the identity of Jesus – that he is the Son of God who has been sent to give life to all who believe (Jn. 20:31) Jesus’ resurrection testifies that he is who he claimed to be. There can be no mistake as to Jesus’ true identity.
Head: What is this story doing in John’s gospel? What does it achieve?
Heart: How does Mary feel about Jesus when she realizes it’s him?
Hands: What does Jesus’ resurrection mean for us? How should we respond?
Thank you for your Son, Jesus, who came and died on the cross for my sins and rose again to give me life. Thank you that his resurrection gives me confidence in the face of my own struggles to follow Jesus – to know that you are in control of all things and that my eternal future rests safe in your hands. By your Spirit, help me to listen to you and your word today. Help me to meditate on it and cling to the certain hope I have.
In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.
A song to listen to: Jesus!