Easter, the gardener's version
And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
Jesus saith unto her, Mary.
She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master . . . .
--The Gospel according to John
. . .
I didn't do it, Centurion, honest. I swear -- or at least I would if I still swore. But I've given it up. I'll just let my aye be aye, and my nay nay. If you don't believe me, my swearing won't change anything. That much I've learned since that day. But I assure you, sire, I've always given unto Caesar what is Caesar's. I make a point of it, seeing what happens to them's that don't.
Yes, sire, she did make a scene, but she disturbed no one's peace. Rather she brought peace in the end. I don't blame her, poor woman. I want to make that clear from the first. I don't blame anyone, not any more. That much I've learned, too.
We all see what we want to see. I knew that even before. For I was used to being nobody, to not being seen till someone needed me. I'm invisible to most visitors here. Not till they have business here, like you, sire, do I materialize for them. Till then, I'm not really here, like the grass and the birds.
Who notices a gardener, anyway? He's just someone you ask for directions, someone who comes with the place. I've seen people pay more attention to the palms and myrtles, the lilies of the field. I'm just here to do the weeding and planting, the watering and pruning -- and to point out the tomb, or the way back to the city, or to wherever people, the real people who aren't just part of the background, want to go. I might as well be a road sign. But it's not such a bad thing, to be needed by the lost.
Of course she would confuse Him with the gardener. He looked like he belonged here, or anywhere He was needed. There was something about Him, something that said: Ask Me. I am the Way. Of course she would run to Him in her distress. He attracts people like her -- the confused, the despairing, those who need him even when they don't know it.
The sleek and sure and well cared for, the masters of the world, the sort who know where they are and who they are and where they're going. For what need have they of Him? They never ask for directions. They just give the orders and plow ahead, straight as one of your aqueducts, imperious, commanding Legions in this world, Rome's world. As it always will be.
I have no complaints about that. We have known many masters and you Romans are better than most. I do miss the Babylonians from time to time, even if they lacked your order and accouterments. Splendid, if I do say so, all of it. Just not for us. I don't think He was much interested in splendor, not your kind anyway. With all due respect, your honor.
The meek, the poor in spirit, we're His kind. He doesn't seek us out. Somehow we just gravitate to Him, the way a flower will turn toward the sun, as if each one -- each one! -- He could call by its own name. The way he did her.
Mary was her name, was it? He doesn't make a show of knowing us by name, he just does. He is just there. Like a sign. Maybe that's why she thought He was me. Fancy that. It was a case of mistaken identity, that's all.
What was I doing here that early? How came I to see her -- and Him? I always go to work at that hour. To beat the heat. You know how it is in these climes. Especially with spring coming, and summer on its heels. And you wouldn't believe the water that big eucalyptus by the gate can take, not to mention the flower beds. Keeps me busy, all right, not that anybody notices. But I notice a lot. Just keep your eyes open and you see all kinds of things around here. Oh, I remember her, all right, even if she got me confused with Somebody Else.
Her demeanor, her reaction? Let me put it this way, your excellency. Watching from afar, I could tell even from a distance that He wasn't what she was expecting. He never is, is He? No wonder she didn't recognize him. The tomb was empty. And so was she -- devastated, confused, at a loss. Which is just when He always appears. And we never recognize him, do we? Not at first.
It was only natural in this place, early on the first day of the week, that she would assume He was a working man. A gardener. He'll sneak up on you like that. Like a thief in the night.
. . .
She had certain expectations of Him, don't you know? And don't we all? Trouble is, He always goes beyond them, turns them upside down and inside out and every which way till you can't even remember what you wanted of Him in the first place. It's all a new heaven and new earth, unrecognizable, wholly other.
We just ask for forgiveness, that's all, and Lord knows we have much to be forgiven for. But He doesn't forgive us; he remakes us. So there is nothing to forgive any more. We are born again.
. . .
I noticed this: It wasn't until He called her name that she recognized Him, and understood. And so did I. It was as if a light had dawned. She wasn't nobody any more, never had been. And neither was I. I was precious in His sight, always had been. As others now are in mine. Maybe that's what it means, being born again, shucking off the past like last year's dead leaves.
You know, sire, maybe it wasn't a case of mistaken identity after all. He was, He is, a kind of gardener after all.
(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)