Whom Are You Looking For?
April 20, 2014
I can imagine a bit of what Mary was going through. I have known the feeling of going back to the cemetery the day after the funeral was over, after the tent had been taken down and all the people had gone, wanting to spend a few moments by myself, in quiet, to reflect, to remember, to pray.
But I can’t begin to fathom what Mary must have felt when she discovered that the grave had been opened up, and it was empty!
After the awful way in which Jesus was executed, you would think that “they”—whoever “they” were, would leave him alone. But, as she told Peter and the other disciple, “they” have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2b).
But determined as she is, she follows Peter and the other disciple back to the garden. Maybe she can find out who the grave robbers are. Maybe they left some sort of clue in their hurry. Maybe she can find a witness to the event, or maybe one of them won’t be able to keep themselves from bragging about their deed. In reality, though, Mary cares far less about finding out who “they” are than she cares about finding the body of Jesus, so she can spend some moments in quiet, reflecting, remembering, praying.
She peeks again in the open cave that had served as a tomb, and she finds two men, dressed in dazzling white, sitting right there at the very niche where she had seen Joseph and Nicodemus place His body. The men look up at her and ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (v. 13a). She still is so beside herself with grief that she doesn’t even note anything different or unusual about these two strangers. All she can do is repeat the same words that she spoke to Peter—“They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him.” (v. 13b).
She hears a noise from behind her and she quickly turns around. She sees someone nearby. A gardener, perhaps. She approaches him, her eyes still blurry with tears, her heart racing, pounding. Her mind still in a fog. Maybe he knows something. Maybe he can help her?
She races up to him. By this time, her emotions overcome her completely and without the least bit of embarrassment, she weeps freely. The man is filled with compassion as he asks her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” (v. 15).
Maybe this man knows. Without lifting her eyes, without really hearing his words or his voice, Mary immediately assumes a “take charge” manner and begins to question, almost accuse this Man. “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (v. 15b).
It is only when Jesus tenderly, firmly calls her name, “Mary,” that He is able to break through her preconceived notions of what has taken place. Only then are her eyes opened to see the Risen Lord. And she falls to the ground, reaching out for Him, trying to hold on to Him so that she will never lose Him again.
We fall into that same trap, as well. We have a notion of who Jesus is—of how we should encounter Him. We expect to find Him in a certain time and place and under certain conditions.
Some of us look for the miracle Jesus, expecting Him to do our bidding whenever we want. We overlook the purpose for the miracles that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry: His miracles were not performed for our convenience but for the Glory of God. We don’t recognize that the Jesus who is with us in our hour of need, who has bourn our griefs and carried our sorrows (see Isaiah 53:4), the Jesus who wept at the loss of his friend Lazarus—this is Jesus the Risen Christ.
Some of us look for the philosopher Jesus. Like Pontius Pilate, we would prefer to engage in dialogue with Jesus about “what is truth” (see John 18:38) and we fail to recognize the One standing before us who is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). We like the ethical Jesus—the one who urged His followers to “turn the other check” and follow a path of nonviolence (Matthew 5:39). But it is a far different matter when we hear Jesus invites us to take up our own crosses daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23).
Some of us look for Jesus in judgment, still waiting for Him to come and make all things right in the world. There is some element of truth here—we do read about a day of reckoning. But if we continue to wait for Jesus to come in judgment, we might miss the One who came to “seek and to save that which is lost” (see Matthew 18:11). And if we engage in some honest self-examination, we might come to find that we ourselves might not be quite so ready to face Christ in judgment.
Some of us just aren’t sure who to look for or where to look for Him. We just keep looking, hoping that somehow, we will recognize Him when we find Him.
I had an “aha” moment this week when thinking about this search for Jesus. The New Revised Standard Version quotes Jesus as asking, “Whom are you looking for?” The New International Version, the one used in your Pew Bibles, translates the question almost in the same way: “Who is it that you are looking for?” But the Greek word that is used probably would be better translated as “seeking.” Whom are you seeking? The word “seeking” connotes to me a sense that we are doing more than just looking around—it is far more active, engaged. It is the same word that Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount when He urged us to “seek first the Kingdom of God…” (Matthew 6:33).
It is one of those mysteries of our faith that seem to be contradictory, and yet it isn’t. It goes right up there with “lose your life to find it,” or “give and you shall receive.” On the one hand, in order to find the Risen Christ, you have to give up your assumptions about when and where and how He will appear to you. And yet, to give up your assumptions does not mean that you give up the search. Even the Apostle Paul, as he neared the end of his life, wrote of the deepest desire of his heart: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings … (Philippians 3:10). Time after time, God assures His people, “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
But the best part is that just when Mary is at her lowest point, she finds out that Jesus has been looking for her all along. He sees her sorrow and he calls her by name. Jesus, the Son of God, desires to be in relationship with us even more then we desire to be in relationship with Him. He is continually with us, watching us, accompanying us, inviting us to “abide” in Him. Jesus, the One who completed His earthly ministry by promising to His followers, “… remember, I will be with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Whom are you looking for this Easter? Are you willing to give up your own preconceived notions about who Jesus is and experience the Jesus who is with you? He is calling your name. And when you recognize Him, can you join with Mary and with the unending cloud of witnesses who proclaim, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18)?
May it be so!
Copyright © 2014 by Thomas E. Frost. All rights reserved.