Mistaken As the Gardener
“Mary Magdalene turned around and saw Jesus standing there,
but she did not know it was Jesus…supposing him to be the gardener.”
–John 20:14, 15
“On the third day the friends of Christ coming at day-break to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of a gardener God walked again in the garden, not in the cool of the evening, but in the dawn.”
The first person to encounter the risen Christ was Mary Magdalene. It happened in a garden. At first Mary thought Jesus was the gardener. A logical mistake. Or a prophetic mistake. Or a beautiful mistake. Or perhaps not a mistake at all.
On Good Friday Jesus was buried in a garden. A garden is a place to cultivate and grow living things. An appropriate place for Jesus to be buried. A few days before his crucifixion Jesus had said, “Unless a seed falls into the ground and dies it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) On Holy Saturday the Son of God was a holy seed sown in a peaceful garden. On Easter Sunday the garden brought forth the first fruits of resurrection — “Jesus Christ declared to be the Son of God by resurrection from the dead.” (Romans 1:4)
The first seed raised by God in the garden of resurrection became the gardener. When Mary Magdalene “supposed him to be the gardener,” she was exactly right! Jesus is now the gardener of resurrection, cultivating new life in all who believe. The first Adam was a gardener who failed in his task and the world became a wasteland of war and sin. But the second Adam will succeed in his task — Christ will restore the ruined garden. With Christ as the gardener of new creation we have a hopeful eschatology.
Instead of the thorn bush shall come up the juniper;
Instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle.
“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be there anymore.” –Revelation 22:2, 3
Jesus is the gardener who turns blighted wastelands into verdant gardens.
Jesus is NOT a conductor punching tickets for a train ride to heaven. Christian hope is not so much about getting from earth to heaven, as it is about getting heaven to earth.
Jesus is NOT a lawyer to get us out of a legal jam with his angry dad. God is not mad at sinners. Jesus told Mary to tell his disciples that his Father was their Father too!
Jesus is NOT a banker making loans of his surplus righteousness. Modern people love economic metaphors…but they are terrible! Economic metaphors invariably produce bad theology.
Jesus IS a gardener! A gardener cultivating resurrection life in all who will come to him. The conductor, lawyer, banker metaphors are mostly false, giving a distorted view of salvation. The gardener (and physician) metaphor is beautiful and faithfully depicts the process of salvation in our lives.
A gardener’s work is earthy and intimate. Gardeners have their hands in the humus. (We are humans from the humus.) Conductors and lawyers and bankers are concerned with abstract and impersonal things like tickets, laws, and money. But gardeners handle living things with living hands. Jesus is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the humus of humanity.
That Jesus is a gardener with a good heart and a green thumb should change your perspective on life. I promise you that your life is not so messed up that Jesus can’t nurture you into a flourishing state. This is the good news! Take a leap of faith and believe it!
Trust the gardener (and stay in his garden!) and Jesus will grow new life out of the husk of your old life. Please, stay in the garden. Yes, I know it’s easy to get depressed about ecclesial garbage. But just remember, even beautiful gardens have a compost pile.
Believing that Jesus is a good gardener tending to your soul really does change your perspective on life. So when “stuff” happens (you know the expression), don’t despair. Allow Jesus to use “it” as fertilizer to help you grow. Paul says something about God causing all things to work together for good…
Then there are those times when the gardener pulls out his shears. Oh, no! Pruning time! Pruning is the painful experience of loss. No one likes to be cut back. But the gracious intention of the good gardener is always the same: to prepare you to flourish. Jesus says, “every branch of mine that bears fruit is pruned, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)
I know in my own life any fruitful result from my work of writing has only been possible because of pruning. If I had remained a church-growth, success-in-life unpruned pastor I could never have written on forgiveness and beauty, peace and love as I have. I had to be pruned. It was painful. Very painful. But I thank the gardener for it.
So take heart, if you’re in the garden, the gardener is there. You may not always recognize him at first, but he is there. He calls you by name and his desire is for you to flourish. Believe in the gardener…for he is risen!
(The artwork is Christ Appears to Mary Magdalene as a Gardener, unknown artist, c. 1500)