She Thought He Was a Gardener
April 19, 2017

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him…”
John 20:15

This really struck me this Easter. According to the account of John, when Mary Magdalene turned away from the angels in the tomb, she saw a man whom she did not recognize.

Immediately she judged that he was a gardener.

Was it how he was dressed? Or was it something in his look, his demeanor? Of course, the tomb was in a garden–a noteworthy fact in itself. But is any man in a garden immediately supposed to be a gardener?

It is interesting that John chose to record this detail. It is perhaps a way of emphasizing that at first she failed to recognize Jesus. But in the famous painting of this scene Beato Angelico portrays Jesus holding a hoe. This great artist prompts us to ponder anew: was there in reality a specific reason that Mary Magdalene ‘mistook’ Jesus for a gardener.

Perhaps I go too far, but I can’t help but think this was somehow a fitting mistake, if really a mistake at all. In writing on this event Gregory the Great actually takes this very approach: Mary was in a sense right. For the Risen Lord is a gardener: a spiritual gardener, planting seeds in Mary’s soul.

Surely there was a garden in the home at Nazareth. I wager that as a boy Jesus would take a break from carpentry to see how his gourds and melons were growing. What a very pleasing image; as is that of him with a hoe in his hand, even after rising from the dead.

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  1. When one attends an event in a home, but has not met the owner, one can often pick them out even if they are not doing something “host-like”. Our Lord’s demeanor may have given the impression that the garden belonged to him and that he knew it intimately as a gardener does, as, in reality, was the case.

  2. He must have looked like an ordinary man in, perhaps, ordinary clothing…nothing like the tortured soul she saw hanging on the cross.
    She was excited, afraid, confused…and in her confusion she easily mistook the calm demeanor of the eternal gardener for the man
    assigned to this little patch.

  3. That is absolutely delightful. For apart from my daily toil at work to keep bread on our table, I likewise garden to keep my soul well fed. Gardening augments the greatest spiritual food I consume each day – the Eucharist!

  4. Alberto, Dan, and Bernard,
    Each of your reflections have beautifully given me more to think about. Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. I never paid much attention to that detail about the gardener until reading this post. St. Gregory the Great’s reflection reminded me of the Canticle of Canticles which, if I am not mistaken, describes the intimate love and union of Christ with both His Church and the individual souls that He loves so dearly; a union that had been restored through His Suffering, Death, and Resurrection (love strong as death). “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat the fruit of his apple trees. I am come into my garden, O my sister, my spouse”, “My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the bed of aromatical spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I to my beloved, and my beloved to me, who feedeth among the lilies.”

    Could that detail be there point out that Mary and the rest of the Apostles know on a natural level Who our Lord is, but will not really understand it on a supernatural level until the Holy Spirit comes to them on Pentecost, similar to the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread? When she goes to tell the rest of them that the Lord is risen, they are still hiding in fear. It seems there is much to meditate on here.

    Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts, and for this series.

    1. What a wonderful reflection Shelly

  6. Erin Patrick Hickey

    I have read that gardeners worked naked at that time. Why? I do not know. But remember that Jesus was crucified naked and that He left the burial clothes behind. Adam and Eve, when they realized their nakedness were naked and ashamed. Jesus, the Son of Man, who heals our wounds and forgives our sins is naked and unashamed because, among other things, He bears in Himself an integrated sexuality. He created us as good and now restores lost innocence, as we hear in the Exultet. Besides, being early on Easter Sunday, all the clothing stores were closed 🙂

    1. Thank you for your deep reflection. I don’t know about the naked part. But you are absolutely right about the clothing stores. 🙂

  7. Beautiful. I stumbled upon your blog–by accident or providence–this morning. I thought, too, of Adam’s failure in the garden to protect, to shammar, God’s creation. Jesus here is the new Adam, risen to restore all of God’s creation.

  8. Shelly, Erin, and Jennie,
    I continue to be amazed by the reflections being shared here. Thank you so much; I am very grateful.