Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about this story that has always bothered me. How on earth could Mary Magdeline, who has been one of Jesus’s closest friends, look right at him and doesn’t recognize him? Isn’t that like…the president of the George Clooney fan club sitting next to George himself on a plane and never realizing who he was? How could Mary Magdeline, probably the closest thing Jesus had to a president of his fan club, have NO idea who he was when he was standing right in front of her?
And it’s not just Mary, is it? Later on, Jesus appears to some of his disciples while they’re fishing and they don’t recognize him. And neither do his friends on the road to Emmaus. How is it that none of his friends recognize him anymore?
When you really think about, the answer becomes sort of obvious: Mary and the others didn’t recognize Jesus because he wasn’t the Jesus they expected to see.
I don’t know if he looked different physically. Even though there are several stories in John that talk about Jesus’s friends not recognizing him after he rose from the dead, none of them say “oh by the way, Jesus looked really different”. Don’t you think that’s kind of an important fact to leave out of all of these stories? If that’s why nobody recognizes him, why wouldn’t John just say so?
Maybe because there’s more to their expectations than just Jesus’s physical appearance.
Think about Superman for a second. Was Clark Kent really fooling anyone with those glasses? Why is it that he takes those stupid glasses off and suddenly everyone realizes he’s Superman? Because it’s not really about his appearance, is it? It’s about people’s expectations of WHO Superman ought to be. Nobody expects Superman to be a nerd! It’s way more likely they’d walk past Clark Kent on the street and say “Wow, that nerdy guy looks a lot like Superman… but there’s no way it could be him!”
We don’t expect Superman to be a nerd.
We don’t WANT Superman to be a nerd.
I titled this sermon “Unexpected Jesus”, but maybe I should have called it “Unwanted Jesus”.
See, Mary Magdeline knew Jesus the man. She loved Jesus the man. She expected to see Jesus’s dead body, because she expected to see Jesus the man. She WANTED to see Jesus the man. So when he appeared to her as someone not quite what she expected or wanted, she didn’t recognize him. He wasn’t the man she expected.
She didn’t expect Jesus to be anything but human.
She didn’t WANT Jesus to be anything but human.
“Wow, that guy over there with those angels looks a lot like Jesus…but there’s no way that could be him!”
And how like Mary we are – always looking for the Jesus we want to see; failing to recognize him when he’s anything BUT what we want to see.
Unfortunately, church people like us, we’re all too quick to pick our favorite Jesus. And then, we don’t want to recognize the many other ways Jesus works in our church and instead we ask “What have you done with my Jesus?”
I can’t believe that church let’s homeless people sleep on its steps. What have they done with my Jesus?
That contemporary music is nothing but noise. What have they done with my Jesus?
Why don’t we have the King James Bible in the pews? What have they done with my Jesus?
A new building? We’ve been meeting in the old one for 200 years! What have they done with my Jesus?
Are they really going to let WOMEN preach now? What have they done with my Jesus?
There’s a funny scene in the movie Taledega Nights where Ricky Bobby, the main character, talks about his favorite Jesus. In the scene, Ricky insists on praying to the "little baby Christmas Jesus," despite his wife's insistence that Jesus, did, in fact, grow up!
So obviously, Ricky Bobby prefers the little baby Christmas Jesus. What Jesus do you prefer?
I tend to like the Hippie Jesus – you know the one I mean – the guy who sounds like Ringo Star, “Peace & Love, Peace & Love”. The turn the other cheek, love your neighbor Jesus. That’s my favorite Jesus.
But Hippie Jesus probably would never have chased the money changers out of the temple, would he?
Some people prefer what I like to call “Buddy Jesus” – he’s your pal, he’s always there to talk to, he’s great to hang around with.
But Buddy Jesus probably wouldn’t point out the times when you’re messing up, would he?
Some people really like the divine Jesus. Kinda like the one in our painting over there – surrounded by an ethereal light, holy spirit descending, the distant but clearly audible sound of angels singing in the background everywhere he goes… (AHH AHH!)
But that Jesus probably wouldn’t suffer like you and I, would he?
For whatever reason, we all have this picture in our head of what we expect Jesus to be, and we hold onto it like pitbulls. I love how Ricky’s wife tries to point this out to him in that scene... “You know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up.” Doesn’t matter to Ricky, he just keeps on praying to the little baby Christmas Jesus. His favorite Jesus. He holds on to the Jesus HE wants to see.
Just like Mary, grabbing on to Jesus when she finally recognizes him.
But Jesus says “Don’t cling to me”. Don’t hold on, I won’t be this way for long. I’m changing. I’m not just this guy you knew. I’m so many other things.
When we hold tight to our personal Jesus, when we start thinking it’s the best or the only way he can be, when we try to put him in a neat little Jesus box, we miss out on too many of the wonderful things Jesus does in our world. Clinging to our idea of who Jesus should be gets in the way of recognizing Him. And if we don’t recognize him, how can we follow him? If we’re intent on putting OUR will for Jesus in front of HIS will for US, we CAN’T follow him.
Jesus is the helpless baby, born of a virgin.
Jesus is the young, charismatic, eloquent preacher.
Jesus is the guy who likes to go fishing with his buddies.
Jesus is the guy who points out the weakness in your faith.
Jesus is the feeder of the poor.
Jesus is the angry, righteous guy in the temple.
Jesus is the broken, bloody, tortured shell of a man on the cross.
Jesus is the Lord God Almighty.
And it’s about time we recognized.