Finding That Lost Key!
A Reflection on John 20: 1-2, 11-18
Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” … (John 20:18 NABRE)
Christ’s appearance to Mary by Alexander Ivanov (1806-1858)
Bishop Robert Barron in his book, The Strangest Way, writes,
“When we drink fine wine, we are lifted up out of our everyday preoccupations and become playful, imaginative, a bit daring. In the same way, when we drink of the spirit of Christ, the divine liquor, our minds are lifted up out of their obsessive concern with “the body” and opened to a higher, more joyful, dimension of experience. This inner wine cellar is buried within the souls of believers, but, says John of the Cross, most of us have lost the key.” (Barron 48-49).
That key is everything! We have to experience Jesus anew. More than an insightful thinker and teacher, Jesus is God before us. So many reduce Jesus to a concept, a way for living a good life, a teacher. He is so much more! Opening our eyes to this reality, whether you accept or reject it, is life changing. It is finding the key to unlock true joy in our lives. This joy compels us to proclaim to the world, “I have seen the [living] Lord.”
Today the Church honors St Mary Magdalen. This experiencing of Jesus anew is what is happening to St Mary in the Gospel today. She has known Jesus the man, but now fully comprehends Jesus as God.
All we really know of Mary’s origin from Scripture is that she is one from whom Jesus drove seven demons (Mark 16:9 and Luke 8:2-3). Theophylact, Archbishop of Ohrid, in around 1078 AD wrote that these seven demons were the exact counter of the seven virtues (Aquinas Catena Aurea). Seven being the number of completion, in driving out the seven demons, Jesus vanquishes vice, sin, from Mary’s life. Mary’s conversion to Jesus the healer was total, for she turned from total vice to complete virtue. Yet, Jesus is more.
This is not to minimize Mary in any way. We should all look to Mary Magdalen as a model of both conversion and a fierce love for Jesus. In the New Testament, she is mentioned among the women who accompanied Christ and ministered to Him (Luke 8:2–3), and she is named as standing at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:40; Matthew 27:56; John 19:25; Luke 23:49). Mary never deserted the Lord and accompanied Him all the way to the tomb on Good Friday. In the Gospel today, we can hear the anguish in her voice, as she tearfully reports to the disciples that, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” (John 20:2 NABRE) Mary fails to understand the miracle right in front of her. There is no suggestion of resurrection and there is no recognition of the risen one. Mary remains in a situation of unbelief as she professes her concern with the removal of a corpse. Her understanding is darkened by a loss of hope. Her fixation on the man Jesus creates an inability to really see.
Mary needs the key to understanding. Jesus, Himself, is the key. Mary does not recognize Jesus until He calls her by name. In this we cannot help but remember Jesus’ words,
“…the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. … and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice.” (John 10:3–4 NABRE)
Even after recognizing Him, now fully alive before her, she calls to Him as Rabbi, teacher, and attempts to cling to or embrace Him. Mary is trying to cling to the Jesus she knew and so intensely loved. She sees Jesus as the man, her teacher. Jesus tells her, “Stop holding on to me…” In other words, stop holding on to me as I was, the historical Jesus, and understand the miracle before you, for I stand glorified with God, as God.
Jesus calls Mary to yet another conversion, a radicle change of heart, when He tells her, mē mou haptou, “do not hold on to me.” He is telling her, “I stand before you as God.” This is the key to complete understanding. Mary’s eyes are opened. You can hear the excitement and joy in her voice as she in John 20:8, announces to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” In opening her eyes to the risen Christ, she now understands and cannot help but make haste to announce this realization.
For Mary, Jesus is no longer some guru whose teaching we might find “good or insightful.” He is more than a man who is now miraculously alive again. He is God! He is Lord! He is Savior! This changes everything!
“To walk this path is to know the unum necessarium, the one necessary reality around which everything else clusters and in terms of which everything else becomes meaningful.” (Baron 34)
The Gospel calls us all to change as Mary did. Jesus is God! When we grasp this understanding, really internalize it; then joy at His promise of mercy, of forgiveness, of salvation, of unconditional love, should flood our soul. It also means that we cannot be cafeteria Christians, choosing what doctrines we like or don’t like. To do this is to follow a historical person, a great teacher, but still a corpse whose teachings you can pick from, accept, and reject. The visage of God held deeply within our soul, “is not meant merely to entrance us; it is also designed to remake us according to its own image, so that we become that which we love.” (Barron 40).
Today, Jesus calls you by name as He did Mary before the empty tomb. Will you open your eyes to God before you and announce to the world that you have seen the risen Lord? In this is the joy of the Gospel.
“Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20–21 NABRE)
Aquinas, St Thomas. Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Mark. Ed. John Henry Newman. Vol. 2. Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1842. Print.
Barron, Robert. The Strangest Way: Walking the Christian Path (p. 34). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
Missio Dei is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.