“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ Turning, she said to him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).”
One of the very curious things about the resurrected Christ is that people don’t always recognize him when they first encounter him. Certainly one could suggest that this may be attached to the terrible grief that those close to Jesus were experiencing as we have discussed already. Certainly it could also be because the horrific torment that Jesus endured would have deformed Jesus and the image of the deformed body was what proved dominant in their minds. One could also make the argument that here, in his glorified body, the veil of flesh no longer hides the glory of heaven from those witnessing the resurrected Christ.
While all of the above things can certainly be said to contribute to the reason that Mary did not initially recognize Jesus, I think that there is another element that needs to be brought into the discussion, and that being spiritual discernment. Think about it, when Peter, James, and John were on the Mount of Transfiguration, just the opposite of this event took place. Instead of not recognizing someone they knew, they did recognize two people that they had never met or seen. And thus, seeing Moses and Elijah on the mountain, they knew who those men were. Since it was not the Jewish practice to paint portraits of people, as that could lead to idolatry, and no photographs were available (it hadn’t been invented yet), the only way these men could have been recognized by the Apostles Was if the Holy Spirit had revealed it to them. Applying the principle in reverse, if the Holy Spirit kept Mary’s eyes closed as to who Jesus really was, this explains her not recognizing him until he called her by name.
And so, in recognizing him, she cries out to him in Aramaic: “Rabboni!” John explains that this means, “Teacher.” Literally, this word means “Great One” and is meant as a title of honor given to those who do teach God’s people the Word. It is a reminder as to the importance that the Jewish culture gave to those who would teach the Torah. They were given respect and honor and the title attributed to them reflected this reality. How sad it is today that so much of the Christian church does not choose to give such honor to those who teach them the Word. How different our churches would be, were that different.