Who Do You Suppose Jesus to Be?

Mary Magdalene

Italian painter Savoldo is noted for his subtle use of color and chiaroscuro, a term we were introduced to in the last post that refers to the dramatic use of light and dark. Savoldo was also noted for the sober realism of his works, which are mostly religious subjects. Mary Magdalene is here identified by the pot of ointment with which she anointed Christ’s body, and by the glimpse of her traditional red dress beneath the silvery cloak. The landscape in the background appears to represent Venice and its lagoon.

This painting is based on John 20 where we find Mary outside the empty tomb weeping. “They have taken my Lord away,” she says, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” A man asks her why she is crying; who is she looking for? The man is Jesus but we are told that Mary “supposes him to be the gardener.” Only when he calls her name does she realize that her Lord is alive and standing right in front of her.

Mary, because of her assumptions, almost missed him. She assumed he was dead, his body taken away. She assumed his work was over. She assumed his words about his resurrection were nothing more than a fairy tale.

The Bible is full of people who made assumptions. Rachel was so distraught that she couldn’t bear children, she said to her husband Jacob, “Give me children, or else I die!” She assumed that life was only worth living if she could bear children. The people of Israel were freed from slavery but complained, “Because the Lord hates us, he has brought us out of the land of Egypt to… destroy us.” Even after all God had done, they assumed he hated them. When Jesus showed up late and found Lazarus had died, Martha said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She assumed that Jesus didn’t care.

It makes me think of who I have supposed God to be. Sometimes I assumed he was my good luck charm. If I prayed enough, went to church enough, did enough good things—he would make my life better. Sometimes I assumed he was a heavenly babysitter, watching my every move and ready to scold me when I messed up. Sometimes I assumed he was a harsh taskmaster, demanding more from me than I could give.

Being Human connection: Who do you suppose God to be? Don’t let your assumptions and agendas cause you to miss him like Mary almost did. Examine your image of God and see if it fits the One who reveals himself in scripture. He’s calling your name. Come and meet him with opened eyes.

Featured image: Giovanni Savoldo, “Mary Magdalene,” 1535-1540