Imagine you are in a beautiful garden. Perhaps you're sitting on a quiet bench, under a tall, canopied tree, with a little creek flowing by. To your left, you can see rows of beds, full of flowers. The scent of honeysuckle or jasmine comes wafting to you on the breeze. You look down and notice a clump of crab grass. Hmmm, you think, that should probably be pulled. You stand up and wander over to the rose beds, inhaling deeply their fresh fragrance. You notice there are some funny looking weeds growing up around them, the type that take over and strangle other plants in the garden. I should get to those before they take over, you think.
On this side of heaven, even the most beautiful places on earth still require work to stay that way. In Scripture, gardens are often used as metaphors for the soul. A beautiful soul is like a well ordered garden, refreshing, inviitng and welcoming to all who see it. And this makes sense to us. We understand that spiritual weeds, much like physical weeds, have to be removed so that the true fruits and flowers of the garden can grow in abundance.
In fact, Jesus himself makes this point when he appears to Mary Magdalene in the garden, right after his resurrection. She sees him but doesn't recognize him, and asks "Are you the gardener?" Notice how Jesus answers her question - he doesn't say no! Jesus, in reality, is the gardener of each of our souls. He is the Master Gardener who revitalizes the interior soil, prunes the dead branches and tends to the flowers and fruit, helping them to burst forth and be seen.
Jesus answers Mary Magdalene's question, not by saying "No, Mary, I am not the gardener. I am the risen Christ" but by simply calling her by name - "Mary." The moment he speaks her name, Mary recognizes him. Jesus has already said that his sheep hear him and recognize his voice, and we see Mary doing just that. We also see that recognizing him leads to a change within Mary. Whereas before she is alone, sad and wandering lost in the garden, now she is filled with joy and amazement. But, like all of Jesus' disciples, she is told to share the Good News. Mary is immediately dispatched back to the apostles, to tell them of Jesus' resurrection. It must have been hard for her to leave Jesus, even to tell the others that he is alive, but Scripture tells us that Mary chose to be obedient - that virtue is now evident in her soul garden - and she runs back to the others.
In these days of the Easter season, we would do well to sit in our own metaphorical soul garden and take a look around. What looks good? What is blooming and flowering? What needs to be trimmed back, or even removed entirely? Ask Jesus, the Master Gardener, to come and give you eyes to see.
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