Called by name

Apparently, it’s a new gimmick, and frankly, an annoying one. How do telemarketers get you to answer the phone, especially when you’re screening your calls? Sometimes, by pretending they’re someone you know, someone who knows you by name.

When our landline rings (yes, we still have one of those), we look at the caller’s ID; if we don’t recognize it, we let it ring. If it’s someone we know, they’ll leave a message, and then we can pick up or return the call. That works well. Most of the time.

Until I hear someone leaving what sounds like a legitimate message. The voice sounds urgent: “Cameron? Cameron, are you there?” I pick up. And a couple of seconds later, I’m silently kicking myself for falling for the trick.

We can’t help but pay attention when someone calls our name. We can be at a noisy party, in a room buzzing with a dozen different conversations. We tune out the buzz, focusing on the person in front of us.

Then someone across the room says our name. Despite the surrounding chaos of sound and speech, our mental antennae automatically go up. Our attention shifts.

And we turn to see who has spoken.

Mary Magdalene stands weeping by the empty tomb. She came to do Jesus honor by making sure his body was anointed with the proper perfumes and spices, a way of coming to terms with her loss. But the body is missing; Jesus has been taken from her a second time. That is why when the angels asked the reason for her tears, she could only lament that someone had taken away her beloved Lord, and she knew not where.

For some reason, she turns around, and sees a man whom she takes to be the gardener. “Woman, why are you crying?” he asks, echoing the angels’ question. But he also adds, “Who are you looking for?”

“Sir,” she replies, “if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him” (John 20:15, CEB). Her response answers neither of the stranger’s questions. And her words make little sense: why would a gardener open a tomb and move the body? And even if she knew where Jesus’ body lay, how would she “get him”? Her heart feels as empty as the tomb, and her response is driven by need.

It is, of course, the resurrected Jesus who is speaking to her — but she doesn’t recognize him. It may be that her eyes are blinded by tears and grief, but other gospel texts suggest that Jesus may have looked different in some way, unrecognizable especially to those who weren’t expecting to see him.

“Who are you looking for?” Jesus asks. She is looking for him. Indeed, she is looking at him. The one who can heal Mary’s broken heart is standing right in front of her, but she doesn’t know it yet. Mournfully, she begins to turn away.

But she turns back when he calls her by name.

(We’ll wrap up Mary’s story in the next post.)