She turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.

14  When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. [1]

There are a number of indicators here just how distraught Mary way…she had been confronted by two angels, a rather awesome occurrence in anyone’s life…but she is so disoriented that this dialogue does not phase her…in fact she turns away from them.  But to top it off, she then actually sees Jesus for whom she has been looking and her perception is so blinded, she does not recognize him.

This seems odd to the casual observer.  After all, of all the women who accompanied him, save His own mother, Mary Magdalene comes across as in the Gospels as the one who could instantly pick Him out of a crowd. For those women who actually travelled with Jesus, the Magdalene was, by self selection and seemingly Jesus appreciation of her, the most devoted, save His own Mother.[2]

The spiritual interpretation seems blatantly evident…how often have we confronted Jesus in our own lives and not recognized Him?  Not seen in the face of a stranger, a friend, someone whom we know intimately, the face of Jesus???

The Stranger…

Jesus in a stranger…the most difficult?  I know nothing about this person.  Or do I.  I know they are alive…they exist by the grace of God, just like myself…they are loved by God who sent His only Son to die for them so that they might live, just like myself…they have gone through many of the same human experiences that God built into each life, just like myself,…they may be hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, in pain, on the treadmill of time, just like myself…they may be beaten and left for dead by the world, society, the Church, just like myself.  They are the least, the little ones, an orphan of the world but a child of God, just like myself.  Do I play the elitist, the holier, the untouching, or perhaps the business executive, the “important” politician, the harried housewife, or am I one of them, a publican, a outcast, a good Samaritan?  My call…


The Acquaintance…

One of the things we do not know from Scripture about Jesus is whether one or more of the Pharisees, Sadducees or Herodians was so fixated on Jesus that, like the Paparazzi or new reporters of today, they were known by the person they stalk. We know that, in Jesus case, he read people to an extraordinary degree, Divining, pardon the pun, their deepest thoughts: Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts?[Mk 2:8].

John goes even farther: But Jesus would not trust himself to them because he knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He himself understood it well. [Jn 2: 24-25]  This reflects His Father’s knowledge of humankind; Solomon recognized this when he prayed: Render to each and all according to their ways, you who know every heart; for it is you alone who know the heart of every human being. [1 Kgs 8:39]The One who fashioned together their hearts is the One who knows all their works [Ps 33:15]; He searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their secrets he understands [Sir 42:18].

Jesus, like His Father, explore[s] the mind and test[s] the heart, Giving to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their deeds. [Jer 17:10] He also acts upon his foreknowledge: Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain alone. [Jn 6:15]

Now the question is, Does Jesus carry over the prejudgment from incident to incident?  Does he give these fair-weather followers who were “looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled” [Jn 6:26] or his opponents who were constantly plotting to catch him at something he might say [Lk 11:54] second chances and not allow His past experience with them color his present attempts to win their hearts, their allegiance, their faith, their souls?

This is important; it mirrors the way He approaches me…do my constant attempts to warn Him off by disobeying Him, denying Him, discrediting Him…do these discourage Him, dissuade Him from pursuing His lost sheep…I certainly hope not, nor does it seem to be the case. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners. [Lk 5:32] In just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance. [Lk 15:7]

So, it seems, while Jesus is able to read our souls and knows our foibles and failings, He is also always ready to try again and again to win us over, to forgive us, to be reconciled with us, to have us put our fingers into His hands and our hand into His side and be not unbelieving, but believe. [Jn 20:27]

How about me?  How do I relate to, approach, appreciate acquaintances, business associates, colleagues, neighbors, the supermarket clerk who I see every time but don’t even know her name? Am I willing, able, eager as Jesus is, to accept the unknown in him, in her?

Giving the other the benefit of the doubt.  It may start there, but that’s not where it should end. If God ended there, we would be in big do-do, for God, I just remembered, has no doubts; He knows all…in which case, He always acts on the Truth of the situation, of the person, of the soul.  That is a scary thought, for I know my soul, at least to the degree that I know I really don’t want Him to see it in the condition in which it is right now…but He does, and He doesn’t care.  He brushes that right aside and comes charging in anyway, arms wide open, ready to hug and love me as His long lost son coming back from the hog pens of the world…not His world which He created and saw it was very good. [Gen 1:31]…but the world after we had gotten hold of it, idolized it, literally, and turned it to our purposes not His.

But how about me?  Probably giving the other whom I do not know well the benefit of the doubt is at least a good starting place.  For one thing, it is based on reality, on truth,…I do not know what motivates the other, what he/she had for breakfast, if anything, which side of the bed he/she did get up on, the side with warm comfy slippers or the side with bare feet and a cold, hard stone floor.  I do not know the myriad pressures under which he/she is constantly trying to survive, to just exist, to make sure that at least somebody realizes that she/he mean something, have purpose, are alive.

Paul got it right: “I tell you a mystery.”[1 Cor 15:51]  Each and every person I know, each and every person I meet, indeed, each and every person with whom I live, to whom I am related, who is my flesh and blood, who exists…tells me a mystery.  We are mysteries to our very selves; how much more then are you a mystery to me and I to you?  How much more must you and I rely on the goodness which God created in each of us as the basis of our relationship?  How much more must I realize that, while I share personhood with each and everyone I meet, while I have been given the gift of empathy, of “undergoing her/his passion and suffering with this other person,” no matter if, indeed, I have walked a mile in his/her moccasins, there is an unknown, a hidden chaos of thoughts, emotions, sensations, facades, egos and archetypal ghosts in the other which I will never know, never appreciate, never take into consideration in my dealings with her/him…partly because, as I know from personal self-examination, I don’t even know these in my own self.  These are the breadth and length and height and depth [Eph 3:18] of myself that is covered 100 fold by Christ’s love: As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Jn 13:34-35].


The Intimate…

How about in an intimate…is it hard to see Jesus there.  Maybe.  Jesus certainly got frustrated with his friends.  Perhaps nowhere in the Gospel’s is it more evident than in the incident about the leaven and the bread:  the disciples had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus said to them, “Look out, and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” They concluded among themselves, saying, “It is because we have brought no bread.” When Jesus became aware of this he said, “You of little faith, why do you conclude among yourselves that it is because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand, and do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many wicker baskets you took up? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you took up? How do you not comprehend that I was not speaking to you about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. [Mt 16: 5-12]  This is a “duh” moment…I mean Jesus had to put 2+2 together for the disciples…”hey, guys, if I was able to feed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes, do you really think I am worried that we only have one loaf of bread?” What patience He has with them…with us…with me.

And this wasn’t the only time.  According to Mark, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and she tells the disciples but they did not believe; then he appears to the disciples on the way to Emmaus and they return and tell the others, but they did not believe them either. Finally later, as the eleven were at table, he appeared to them and rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had been raised. [Mark 16:11, 13-14]  “Hey, guys, what do I have to do to get your attention…I thought rising from the dead would have done it…come on, get with it.  I’m here.  This is real.  Do you have something to eat?  You need to get your heads around this and listen up….”

You would think that was enough…you would think that He finally had their attention.  Well, yes, He was  alive, they finally got it…but as to what this Kingdom was, what He was, do you think they finally put the pieces together?  Listen to the ultimate “duh” moment just before his ascension: When they had gathered together they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Humanly speaking, I think the poor Guy had had it…they still didn’t get it, it’s not a political kingdom, I am not a military leader, it’s not about Rome and it’s not just about Israel, either.

But, Divinely speaking, He knew this was to be expected…He and the Father and the Spirit had planned for this outcome. He wasn’t going to leave them in the dark: So He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority. But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And, in a combination of human exasperated love and the eternal peace that comes from trusting in Divine providence, He chuckled, shook his head, and blessed them and as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.[Acts 1:6-9]

How do I see Jesus in my wife, my children?  Am I afflicted with the Nazareth syndrome: A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.[3] [Mt 13:57]  Am I too familiar with their faults and failings, their limitations and humanity, that I cannot see their sanctity, their holiness, God with them.  Their very existence is a miracle.  The fact that we are related is a testimony to Divine Providence.  They witness to me and the world a unique and once only reflection of Jesus in the world.

So, perhaps, it is not so much that I “cannot see” these signs of sainthood, but that I do not want to see them.  Perhaps they show me how badly I reflect Jesus to them; how much in need of Divine assistance and intervention I am in order to even fulfill the duties and tasks which Jesus has given me in my family, let alone the world.  Perhaps they are a mirror into which I see my own inadequacies, my own sinfulness, my own desperate need to be saved, to be redeemed from my great and unrepayable debt, in short, my desperate need for Jesus.

Do I, when I hear the Nazarenes compare the knowledge they have of Jesus, their neighbor, and the revelation with which they confronted of Jesus, The Prophet, the Messiah, the foretold one,…regardless of the evidence which has reached their ears, the news of him that had spread throughout the whole region, [Lk 4:14] of his actually having perform miracles…indeed, He read their thoughts: Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.[Lk 4:23]…when I hear this, do I reflect the same skepticism: Isn’t this the son of Joseph? [Lk 4:22] concerning the Jesus in each member of my family…Isn’t this just Susan, Amanda, James?  Don’t they live with me?  Haven’t I seen them naked or sick or out of sorts?  How can they be Jesus to me?

Is it my own hubris?  My own pride that wants to rank each and all?  My own ego so blinding me to the blessings that God places right here before me?  Right here daily, hourly, minute by minute? Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this myopia? [Rom 7:24]  As I sit down to dinner tonight, perhaps I should reflect on my Pharisaical attitude toward my own family:  “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” and praise Jesus for seeing through my sinfulness:Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.” [Lk 5: 30-32].

Perhaps the more salutary aspect of this phenomenon is not the fact that we refuse to recognize in one another the wonderful blessings God has placed in each of us.  Rather, perhaps it is that God utilizes this short-sightedness, this “familiarity breeds contempt” syndrome, to bring me back to reality, to humble me back into realizing I do put my pants on, one leg at a time, I do have grating habits with which my nearest and dearest have to endure day after day, hour after hour, I do not exist on a plane of perfection but on a planet, a place, of imperfection.[4]  Perhaps, more than recognition for my achievements, I need to be recognized for my failures.  As Paul says: He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Cor 12:9-10]  When I am recognized in my failures, I am recognized with Christ, seemingly history’s greatest “failure” who became eternity’s greatest success.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving me in my failures, in my sin, in my ineptitude, in my frailty, in my humanity.  Thank You for saving me from my successes, from my conceit, from my pride, from my “my-ness,” from my self-ego and enabling me to find my true self in You, my self-Christ.  Amen.  Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] While this has led to speculation of a romantic entanglement with Jesus, there is no evidence of this in the Gospels; I see such conjecture as an anachronistic overlay of our modern mores and culture, not only on Jesus and the Gospels but on the customs of His time.

[3] This is one of the few items that is referred to in all four Gospels: Mt 13:57; Mk 6:4; Lk 4:24; Jn 4:44.

[4] Christ recognized this when he said: “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”[Lk 5:32] If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [1Jn 1:8] It also gives us hope of becoming better; not through our own strength, butI have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. [Phil 4:13]



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