Yesterday’s Gospel reading, according to the traditional lectionary, was taken from St. John’s account of the Resurrection. It contains a few lines of Scripture that I have come to view in quite a different light over the years:
When she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing; and she knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith to her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, thinking it was the gardener, saith to him: Sir, if thou hast taken him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith to her: Mary. She turning, saith to him: Rabboni (which is to say, Master).
Quite naively, upon my return to the Church and acquainting myself with the Resurrection accounts, I thought that the Apostles and other disciples not recognizing the resurrected Lord was a proof of how “crude” they were. “Surely,” I thought, “I would recognize Him were I in their position. How could they not?” Repeated readings over the years have proved what a superficial reading that was, and how, in fact, I was the crude one.
The subject of the inability to identify the risen Lord straight away is one that I’m not going to touch, for various reasons. However, Mary Magdalene’s mistaking him for a gardener is one I’d like to reflect upon briefly.
At first I found it quaint that Mary would identify Him with a gardener. Why a gardener? I don’t know if our current concept of gardener is that much different than that of the ancient world, but images of someone pruning and watering in the environs of the tomb were what sprung to mind. How many people would be up before light tending to a garden? This was the image and the questions that stuck in my mind for many years.
But as I studied and came to see in John’s Gospel more Temple themes than in the other accounts, the figure of the gardener came to make much more sense. Jesus is the New Adam. Just as Adam was placed in the Garden, so the risen New Adam is found in a garden as well. And just as Adam was “to cultivate and tend it”, so the New Adam is identified as a gardener, one who cultivates and tills. We can see here a continuation of the 8th Day theme, of a new Creation. Jesus has opened up Paradise to Man again and, as the obedient Son, is doing His Father’s will for Man. And yet to cultivate and tend are terms which the Old Testament also uses for cultic worship within the Temple. So Jesus, seen as a gardener, is the true intercessor, the embodiment of Man’s priestly role for all Creation.
One should keep an eye out for “minor” details in St. John’s gospel – being steeped in Temple imagery, more often than not those details are subtle clues on how to interpret the text.