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Out of Context

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

As I queued up to board my flight, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned and received a warm greeting. “Elisa! Do you remember me? It’s Joan!” My mind flipped through various “Joans” I’d known, but I couldn’t place her. Was she a previous neighbor? A past coworker? Oh dear . . . I didn’t know.

Sensing my struggle, Joan responded, “Elisa, we knew each other in high school.” A memory rose: Friday night football games, cheering from the stands. Once the context was clarified, I recognized Joan.

After Jesus’s death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early in the morning and found the stone rolled away and His body gone (John 20:1–2). She ran to get Peter and John, who returned with her to find the tomb empty (vv. 3–10). But Mary lingered outside in her grief (v. 11). When Jesus appeared there, “she did not realize that it was Jesus” (v. 14), thinking He was the gardener (v. 15).

How could she have not recognized Jesus? Was His resurrected body so changed that it was difficult to recognize Him? Did her grief blind her to His identity? Or, perhaps, like me, was it because Jesus was “out of context,” alive in the garden instead of dead in the tomb, that she didn’t recognize Him?

How might we too miss Jesus when He comes into our days—during prayer or Bible reading, or by simply whispering in our hearts?

Dear God, give us eyes to see Jesus, however He comes—in a familiar context or surprising us in an unexpected one.

Expect Jesus in unexpected places.


Notice how each person identifies the other during the conversation in John 20:13–16. Mary Magdalene refers to Jesus as “Lord” (thinking Him dead, v. 13), “Sir” (thinking Him to be the gardener, v. 15), and “Rabboni” or “Teacher” (upon recognizing Him, v. 16). On His side of the dialogue, Jesus refers to Mary as “woman” (v. 15) before addressing her by name (v. 16).

Mary honors Jesus’s memory by calling Him “Lord,” and even in the midst of her grief she respects the supposed gardener by calling Him “sir” (a common, polite form of kurios or “lord”). It may appear that Jesus is being unwelcoming when He calls Mary “woman”; to our ears that may seem distant or even harsh. But in that culture, it was a respectful term and one Jesus had used to address His mother in John 2:4. Everything turns, however, when Jesus speaks her name and she sees Him as her risen Teacher.

Bill Crowder

By |2019-02-12T16:38:12-05:00February 14th, 2019|
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