“Only when her perspective shifted did he come into view.” Thus does Cynthia Bourgealt describe the experience of Mary Magdalene facing Jesus at the empty tomb (The Wisdom Jesus, 130). When Mary does recognize Jesus and wants to cling to him, he invites her to another shift of perspective. She is to know him differently now, not in the former way of connecting with his physical body, but through an inner heart connection which will be with her always and which no one can take away from her.
This is the message she is to take to his disciples. When Mary breaks into their hiding place in the upper room and tells them the news, “He is risen!” they cannot believe her. They are stuck, clinging in fear to their security, unable to see something new, until Jesus, himself, comes through the closed, locked doors of their hiding place and of their hearts.
The shift of perspective happens again to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-31). Clinging to their dashed hopes, they do not recognize Jesus when he joins them. He reinterprets the Scriptures for them, inviting them not to cling to their disappointment but to pay attention to the burning in their hearts. The shift of their perspective to another way of seeing and experiencing him culminates in the breaking of bread—and then they recognize him.
In John’s account of the appearance of Jesus at the Lake of Tiberias (Jn. 21: 3-7a), the same dynamic is at work. Peter, bewildered by all that has happened, returns to the familiar. “I am going fishing,” he announces. The others answer, “We will go with you.” After a fruitless night of labor, they fail to recognize the stranger on the shore as Jesus, even when he invites them to cast their nets again. At the sight of the full nets, John’s perspective shifts and he exclaims, “It is the Lord.”
The key to the new perspective seems to be not to cling. Are we surprised? Paul, in his letter to the Philippians characterizes this of Jesus as he comes into the world. “His state was divine yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and become as (humans) are” (Phil. 2:6-7). Jesus fully embraced all of human life, taking on all the consequences of being human, the joys and the sorrows. Yet he did not cling to these either.
We recognize this attitude of “non-clinging” as “kenotic,” the way of self-emptying, of self-giving. Elizabeth Johnson has pointed out that this attitude is God-like and has marked God’s action from the beginning. “Within the Christian story it is possible to see that divine self-emptying in the incarnation and passion of Christ is not an uncharacteristic divine action. Rather, this historical moment discloses the pattern of Sophia-God’s love always and everywhere operative. Divine, freely self-giving love did not begin with God’s personal entering into human history but is so typical that it plays out at the dawn of creation itself” (Elizabeth Johnson, She Who Is, 234).
The Easter message, and not only that of Holy Week, is in many ways the same. Do not cling, even to the good, the holy, the precious. Be ready and even ask for the grace of a shift in perspective in order to be able to see, not so much more, but deeper.
Miriam Cleary, O.S.U.
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