At Easter, our first Resurrection story told of the appearance of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene, who is grieving over the disappearance of Jesus’ body from the tomb. In her worry and frustration, she “turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus . . . supposing him to be the gardener” (John 20:14–15).
She thought He was the gardener! Why not? Who else would be in the garden so early in the morning? And how changed he must have been from the man she had known—this man who had been so brutally tortured and killed, but is now so newly risen He warns her not to touch him. Later that same day the two disciples walking to Emmaus wouldn’t recognize him either.
Many artists have used their creative imaginations to represent this risen Jesus in the garden, some still wrapped in burial cloths, others in gardening togs normal for their times, often wearing a broad-brimmed hat, always carrying a shovel or some other gardening tool. And why shouldn’t we see Jesus as “the Gardener?” He has planted the seed of his teachings in his disciples, Mary among them, to spread to all nations.
Jesus IS a gardener! A gardener cultivating resurrection and life in all who will come to him. A gardener’s work is earthy and intimate. Gardeners have their hands in the humus; gardeners handle living things with living hands. Jesus is not afraid to get his hands dirty in the humus of humanity.
Jesus is the gardener of the new Eden, doing what Adam could not do. His resurrection broke ground in this garden, marking the beginning of a massive restoration project, a new Genesis; He is the caretaker of humanity.
The Bible makes explicit the connection between God the Father and gardening.
● Genesis 2:8 tells us he was the world’s first gardener: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.”
● The prophets sometimes wrote of God’s gardening as a metaphor: in Isaiah 61:11:“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, / and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, / so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise / to sprout up before all the nations.”
● In Jeremiah 24:6, God says of the exiles from Judah, “I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up.”
● Jesus Himself calls His Father “a vinedresser”, who prunes every branch so that it may bear more fruit.
● Jesus compares the Kingdom of heaven to a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) in which laborers are rewarded for their work.
● He tells us “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5)
Let Jesus, the gardener with a good heart and a green thumb, nurture the changes in your perspective that may have taken root this Lent. Trust Jesus, the patient gardener of your soul—planting seeds of virtue and wisdom, nurturing the sproutings of faith, weeding out temptations and bad habits, bringing you to full flowering in the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, Pope Francis calls us to work with others through a new conversion— an ecological conversion that recognizes our responsibility to be good stewards of the garden He has created for us. So stay in the garden. And protect it from all who would do it harm.
How can I protect the garden we call Earth?
● Tree planting. Have you planted (or plan to plant) trees? Have you bought trees to be planted elsewhere? Arbor Day Foundation and National Wildlife Federation have free tree seedlings saplings programs
● Clean up. Have you participated in a stream, river, beach, road clean-up?
● Plant a garden to attract bees and other pollinators. Buy from local produce farms. Apply for your garden to be certified as a St. Kateri Habitat. What is that? https://www.kateri.org/saint-kateri-habitat-2/
● Habitat restoration. Support local and National efforts to protect wildlife areas, especially wetlands.
● Reducing/ Recycling. How can you reduce use of plastics or your own carbon footprint or water use?
This reflection was inspired by John 20:15 and:
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has managed the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for over 4 years.