Tuesday in the Octave of Easter
Today’s gospel retells one of the great instances of mistaken identity. John retells how Mary Magdalene confused Jesus with the gardener. No one could really blame her, after all Mary was there at the death of Jesus, when the soldier pierced the side of Christ with a lance, and she was there when they removed the body of Christ from the cross. Having prepared the bodies of women for burial, Mary certainly knew death when she saw it. Two days later, when she meets some guy walking around ready to plant tomatoes, it would not be surprising that she would not think that it was Jesus.
Now we could take this reading and make into an allegory, meaning that the story stands for something else. For example, just as Mary Magdalene was surprised by the unexpected presence of God so we too should be surprised and keep our eyes open to God’s presence in the world in ways that surprise us. And further, we should not presume stereotypes, and we should not be prejudiced…etc…. And all this is true. However, the reduction of the truth of the resurrection to an allegory drains the central message of Christianity of its fundamental event: that Jesus rose from the dead and that his life death and resurrection is the fundamental basis for our relationship and redemption with God the Father.
Allegory makes things a little easier to understand, but allegory also may lessen the punch of the message. Since the 19th century, a way of softening religious identity and fostering compatibility has been the trend to reduce religious experience to the Golden Rule. These efforts place a greater priority on the results of Christian action and substitute actions, such as charity, for its fundamental reality which is the recognition of God’s action in the world through Christ in union with the Holy Spirit.
The recognition of the centrality of God’s action in the world, particularly the incarnation, which we celebrated on March 25, and then the fullness of God’s work at Easter exists as the foundations of our faith. Our good works are a consequence of this belief but they are secondary to the first and the greatest commandment which identifies a recognition of the centrality of the redemptive work of God in our lives based on the resurrection of Christ. To recognize this event as anything else would be a big mistake.