Today on the feast of Mary Magdalene, we’d like to share a reflection written by Nell Goddard, now known as Alianore Smith for Day by Day with God. In this reflection on John 20:11–18, we’re encouraged to consider how Mary knew the voice of Jesus as he spoke her name. Mary knew Jesus by the way he said her name, and she turned towards him. It’s our hope that, like Mary, we each would also recognise and know Jesus as he speaks our name and be turned towards him.


He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’… Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’

John 20:15–16 (NIV, abridged)

Did you ever try that exercise where you say a sentence over and over again, with the emphasis on a different word each time? The classic one is ‘I never said she stole my money’ – its meaning changes with each emphasis.

Sometimes I do that with phrases in the Bible. Our English translation doesn’t tell us which words are emphasised, and so it is left to our imagination. The angels’ – and Jesus’ – question to Mary: ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ is one such phrase. How was it emphasised? Was the main point the ‘why’, the ‘you’ or the ‘crying’? Each one gives the sentence a different weight. Was it emphasised differently by the angels and by Jesus? Did one ask ‘why’ and the other focus on the ‘crying’? I guess we’ll never know, but it is a joy to mine the depths of those five short words, their meaning and their weight.

But the word I am most fascinated with in this passage is the name: ‘Mary’. I want to know the tone in which Jesus said it. Was it a greeting? A consolation? A gentle rebuke? A shout? A sigh? Once again, we do not know. But what we do know is that Mary knew that voice as it said her name. She knew the timbre, the tone, the pitch. She knew the way he said her name. She recognised him by how he spoke her name, and she turned towards him.

How do you think the risen Jesus says your name? A greeting? A consolation? A gentle rebuke? A shout? A sigh? Maybe it is all of these. Maybe it is completely different. But when the Lord says your name, you cannot help but turn towards him.

Prayer: Jesus, teach me to recognise your voice and to be so struck by the miracle of your resurrection that I turn towards you in wonder and awe.

Written by Nell Goddard (Alianore Smith) in her series on Resurrection in Day by Day with God January–April 2021.

Find more information about our Day by Day with God Bible reading notes here.

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