JOHN 20:10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.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.”
Anyone with a heart loves this scene. With a heart filled with love and arms filled with spices she came to do for her dearest friend what needed to be done and she was kept from it—her tears were inevitable. When the man asked her why she was weeping He wasn’t asking for information, He wanted her to know He saw it and He wanted her to have opportunity to say it. Allowing people to weep is a gift.
She was looking at Him.
Looking at Jesus.
But she didn’t recognize Him as Jesus.
“Thinking he was the gardener…” (20:15)
And when she finally recognized Him as Jesus she still didn’t know who He was.
She thought He was the same familiar lovely Jesus.
The truth is, for all the lovely truths she had always known about Him she didn’t know Him.
He was always more than she knew though like the gracious Lord he was and is He accepted it gladly.
Now she clings to Him, knowing this is her dear friend and supposing, I take it, that it was something like what Martha and Mary must have felt when their beloved Lazarus was back from the dead; the joyful days had returned, the harmless pleasures were within reach again and it was back to business as usual.
Then came His words, “Do not hold on to me…” (20:17).
Not hold on to Jesus? Not cling to her dearest Friend? Aren’t we urged, ceaselessly urged to cling to Him? How difficult it is not to cling to someone we cherish, someone who is our “other self”. The apostle John who knew very well the meaning of the depth of love and friendship (John 13:23; 19:26, John himself) isn’t interested in telling us how the Lord’s words must have devastated Mary. He is interested in telling us as Jesus was fervent about telling sweet Mary that Jesus is not to be narrowed, that He must not be confined to any given truth or person.
There were those who were privileged to know him in that very personal way, His own Jewish people, his own immediate friends and followers but the One they knew in this way was now making clear to Mary and so to us that He is greater than we know. If he is confined in the flesh as this sweet woman had known Him He could not be with and for all who need him. If He doesn’t go away the Spirit will not come by which He will indwell all who believe in Him and if there is no extension of His incarnation the poor world that needs His friendship will be robbed of His truth and presence (John 7:38-39; 14:16-18, 23; 16:5-22).
John would say this to Christ’s friends:
- He is your friend but He is more than that. He does care for you but He cares for a tortured world and will not be confined to love of you and in your better moments you wouldn’t want Him to be or do less than He is and does.
- He is the person you know as Jesus of Nazareth but Jesus of Nazareth stands for and is the revelation of truths and realities that that are cosmic in their implications and effects. To make Him just your friend is not to recognize Him as Himself and it is to make Him less than He is; it’s to make Him someone else.
- John would have Jesus saying, “I never sought exemption from my Father’s saving purpose nor would He grant it had I asked, so please don’t make our friendship depend on my giving you exemption from sadness and loss and pain.”
- Martha’s disappointment (John 11) and pain is easily understandable. To reduce Him to her localized friend or to a dehumanized spirit as the apostles did in Luke 24:37 is to reduce Him beyond recognition—He is no longer the Jesus of the Godhead’s eternal and cosmic purpose.
- To reduce Him to someone who is so sweet that He will not turn tables over and in moral outrage frighten traders out of the temple is to make Him less than He is. To say to Him, “Be my friend but keep everyone else at a distance; take care of my family, exempt all I love from pain and loss. I’m sorry about all these others but it’s me and mine I really want catered to. Help others if and when you can but do guarantee that I and those dear to me don’t hurt”—to say that would make Him some other Jesus, it would be to make Him your personal valet, maybe even a gardener.
- To reduce Him to one who died to forgive us of our sins—end of Story—is not the whole Gospel. He’s not less than that—He’s not less but He’s more!