Summary: Do our expectations of who Jesus should be keep us from seeing who he really is?
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?”