Called By Name 

Sunday, August 4, 2019
Intern Eric Nelson

John 20:11-18

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

Today, we begin a five week series of discipleship according to different characters in the New Testament. We begin with discipleship according to Mary Magdalene.

How might you describe Mary Magdalene?

A friend and supporter of Jesus? A woman whom Jesus cast demons out of? A witness to Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Looking through the various gospel accounts, we find truth in all of these things.

However, there is a title Mary is never given within the patriarchal society they were in: ‘disciple.’ It would not be acceptable for a woman to be a disciple to a rabbi. Women were not even allowed to be in the same part of the Temple as the men. A woman’s place was made to be taking care of the home and to be reliant upon a father, husband, or other male relative. Women weren’t taught to read because it was thought that only men would be reading and teaching the scriptures. Women would have a life still focused in prayer and faith, but were to be limited in what their role was. Society had no room for a woman to be learning and following as a disciple to a rabbi. Society had no room for that, but Jesus is far different from that broken society.

While Mary Magdalene does not receive the title ‘disciple’ in the gospel account, it is quite clear that is exactly what she is.

She has followed. She came to the tomb in darkness. She doesn’t fully understand what is going on as she assumes that someone has taken the body of Jesus away. Yet, still she remains in this darkness, looking for her Lord.

Angels sitting in the tomb question her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Seemingly unfazed by their presence she says, “They have taken away my Lord.”

She doesn’t realize Jesus has been raised. That’s not what she’s expecting. She doesn’t have this all figured out, but she is still focused on Jesus.

Here she stands, with everyone else gone, outside the empty tomb of Jesus saying, “They have taken away my Lord.” She is in a place of darkness, both figuratively in her grief and literally in this early morning hour, still seeking to be near her Lord.

Finally, Mary turns and sees Jesus still without recognizing him.

We don’t know exactly what keeps her from recognizing him. Her grief? Her reasonable expectation that someone who died would still be dead? Was it so dark that she could not see clearly?

We simply know that in this dark time she does not expect to see Jesus risen from the dead.

Jesus, like the angels, asks why she weeps but then questions her further: “Whom are you looking for?”

This is almost identical to Jesus’ initial interaction with the first disciples. (John 1:35-39) Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” They respond, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” They want to follow.

Mary is questioned just like the other disciples, but she still hasn’t recognized Jesus. Who is he? A gardener? Whoever he is, Mary still wants to find out where Jesus’ body is. “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”

Jesus is then known in one word. “Mary!” he says.

Mary responds, “Rabbouni!”

“Rabbouni! Teacher! My beloved teacher!”

This echoes back to John 10 when Jesus identifies himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. He says how he knows his own and his own know him.

Her good shepherd calls her by name and she responds by calling the good shepherd by the name she knows, “Teacher.” Mary makes a personal confession of who Jesus is, naming Jesus as her own teacher and herself in turn as a disciple. Mary Magdalene shows us quite a picture of what a disciple is.

She followed without knowing the full picture, still determined and focused. She followed when there was little-to-no hope. She is not the expected one to be a messenger of the resurrection, but she followed to this place where she is surprised by her risen Lord and Teacher and then sent out to tell the others.

Mary is not just a disciple; she is the first preacher of the resurrected Christ! But Jesus doesn’t just tell her to go tell the other disciples he is alive.

In fact, a strange thing happens. Jesus tells Mary not to hold on to him because he has not yet ascended to the Father. As exciting as this moment is, seeing Jesus alive again, it doesn’t stop here. Jesus’ great news far exceeds events like the raising of Lazarus. Jesus is going to ascend to God. His defeat of death goes far beyond expectation, leading to life everlasting with God.

And Jesus includes us in this news.

Jesus says to tell them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Mary gets to go out and preach this good news! Jesus is not just raised from the dead, Jesus is ascending to God the Father who is our God and Father as well. We share in this relationship with God! As we share in a death like his we share in a resurrection like his.

So, why is Mary the one receiving this news? She was never even given the title of disciple in the gospels. Why not Peter or the beloved disciple of Jesus witnessing this moment and going out as the first preachers?

The Christian church has probably asked this question quite a bit as well. Our own Lutheran church didn’t even start to ordain women until 1970.

Well, our Lord and Savior was never one to conform to societal expectations. This is our same Lord who “had to go through Samaria” in John 4 when we can study a map and know that he did NOT in fact have to walk through Samaria. He interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well, breaking social boundaries across lines of culture and gender. Throughout all Jesus’ ministry in John’s gospel, Jesus is crossing boundaries to be with all of God’s people.

Jesus had to be with the people that society had cast aside. Jesus makes a statement in his life about the value of each person. Jesus had to be with those who were marginalized.

Jesus makes a similar statement in appearing first to Mary and sending her out as the first messenger called by name to proclaim this good news.

Additionally, Mary is making a statement as a disciple, remaining close to her Lord even when hope seems lost and when all others have left.

Mary, like Christ, knows what it is like to be rejected by society.

Mary follows the model of Jesus as a disciple by prevailing when all hope seems lost.

We look for that hope in darkness today. With thirty dead in El Paso and Dayton, we look for our God. We look for hope. We don’t understand. But we wait for hope in this dark place.

Mary is not the perfect person, but she has followed even in this dark place and Mary is who Jesus called by name.

Jesus shows that discipleship, the call to tell others, and this relationship with God is not just for those whom society expected.

Jesus had to be with and for all God’s children. Jesus knows his own and his own know him. His own people search for him in the darkness like Mary.

Mary was called by name to her Savior and sent out as the first preacher of this great story, telling how Christ shows up to call us each by name as daughters and sons of God.

God still knows us and calls us.

Are you listening for God to call you by name?

How are you open to the unexpected call from Christ for you and your neighbor to follow?

How is God calling each of us to follow in unexpected ways?

Go into the unexpected as a disciple like Mary, dedicated and watching for God to continue to shatter expectations as Jesus brings all people to hear their own name called as children of God and sheep of the good shepherd’s flock.

Thanks be to God. Amen

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