In the gospel of John, the one written by Jesus’ best friend, John tells us of Mary’s encounter with Jesus after he rose from the dead. It was early, still dark, and Mary was overwhelmed with grief. When she turned around from the empty tomb there was Jesus, but she thought he was the gardener. Now, suppose, as Charles Spurgeon has pointed out, that Jesus was the gardener. Is this an appropriate metaphor for Jesus?
Actually, while obviously not an intentional use of a metaphor in this encounter, it is indeed a wonderful way to view Jesus. If you have ever visited a well-kept garden with paths, fish pond, and all sorts of flowers, herbs, vegetables and more, you would know that the gardener goes to great pains to ensure the gardens’ success – kind of like Mr. Miyagi’s garden in the Karate Kid.
So it is with Jesus. Paul (Jesus’ main guy he used to reach non-Jews in the first century) uses a gardening metaphor to speak of our adoption as children of God. In Paul’s letter to the struggling house churches in Rome, he says that we’ve been grafted into the nourishing root of the olive tree. Jesus is the root. Elsewhere, he’s the vine, the bread, the good shepherd, the way – the metaphor list goes on to help us capture the size and scope of Jesus the Rescuer.
In Genesis, the first book in the Bible, God walks with Adam and Eve in the garden – life is just as it was meant to be – heaven and earth, together as one. In fact, one of our first assignments as humans was to tend God’s garden – we didn’t do so well. Still don’t.
In short, the gardener metaphor works for Jesus. It helps us wrestle with both good times and hard times. In good times, we can be thankful for God’s grace – his nourishment – that allows us to blossom and bear good fruit. In hard times, we are reminded that the gardener will prune and cut as necessary because he loves us and wants us to reach our full potential.
Too often we’re quick to cry out to God, “Why? Why me? This is too hard – I can’t do it!” Yet, the gardener metaphor reminds us Who is tending to us. Knowing who is cultivating us allows us to ask a new question. What is the gardener doing? What can I learn from this experience?
Most folks who have struggled through hard times will tell you that they reached new heights that they never would have reached had they not been pruned. We are also reminded that our successes are thanks to the gifts and rich soil provided by our creator that allow us to bloom and share His glory.
Supposing him to be the gardener helps us to remember who is in charge – and that we’re in very good hands.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson