Recognizing Jesus

John 20:11-18
Acts 2:36-41 / Psa 33

…she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
(John 20:14)

Declare, ’though we have never seen,
Share with all who care to listen,
The Word from Mary Magdalene:
Our Lord, Jesus Christ has risen!

Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She answered, “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. 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.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 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.’” 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. (John 20:11-18)


Was it because she was crying, and her vision was blurred, or was it because the appearance of Jesus was transformed after His Resurrection that Mary Magdalene failed to recognize Him when our Lord stood before her? Besides, this encounter happened very early in the morning, and it was probably still dark. Initially, she thought the person who asked her why she was weeping was the area’s gardener, because it was obvious that she was not expecting to see Jesus alive. It was only when He addressed her by her name in the loving tone that she recognized that she immediately realized her Lord and Master had truly risen from the dead. Then her tears of despair (that the body of her beloved Master had been taken away) turned to cries of joy; so much joy that she could not restrain herself from embracing the feet of Jesus in loving homage (Mt.28:9).

The 12th century saw a widespread devotion to St. Mary Magdalene in the Western Church. St. Theresa of Avila wrote in her personal journal that it was the life story of Mary Magdalene which played an important role in her conversion from spiritual indifference. We do not know how many other saints and martyrs shared the same sentiments about the influence this mystical woman played in their lives, but we do know that she has become the most controversial female saint in the New Testament, even up to the present time. Nonetheless, her devotion and great love for her Redeemer was unparalleled, even among the closest apostles of the Lord. She accompanied Him as well as consoled His mother in His walk to the hill of Calvary, and witnessed His suffering and death on the cross. After Jesus had been buried, she was the first among His followers to visit His grave to anoint His body with spices (Mk.16:1). Despite the different versions among the Gospel writers, there is no question that Mary Magdalene was the first witness of Jesus’ Resurrection. For this reason, she is revered as one of the greatest saints.

Let the example of Mary Magdalene’s devotion lead us to cling to Jesus in adoration, love, and faith. But He doesn’t want us to just “hold on” to Him if we have found Him in our hearts. He also wants us to “Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” It is a clear mandate for us to declare to others that our Lord Jesus Christ has risen.

Dear God, thank You for the example of Mary Magdalene, once a great sinner whom Your Beloved Son turned into a great saint. May her love and devotion inspire us to recognize Jesus in others, so that we too may learn the true meaning of love. Amen.

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