This word rabbouni seized my thoughts a few days ago while reading John’s account of Mary Magdalene being the first to encounter the risen Christ. Troubled and confused, her mind wouldn’t allow her to recognize him at first. Her intellectual knowledge of Jesus’ gruesome death couldn’t accept that he was alive again. Flesh and blood standing right there with her in her doubts and despair. Then the resurrected Lord simply spoke her name and through his speaking revealed himself as her rabbouni—her personal, intimate teacher. I’ve mentally ruminated this word rabbouni since then.
The first word we hear spoken to Jesus in John’s Gospel is rabbi—which means teacher. For three years Jesus was their teacher, their rabbi. He taught them the ways of God. How to pray. How to be a neighbor. How to love. Like many present-day Christians, the disciples had intellectual knowledge about God but couldn’t quite grasp the full meaning of this head knowledge. Occasionally one or two of them would get a glimmer of the deeper truth but then the phantasm would slip away. They couldn’t comprehend how you can gain your life by losing it. How you could really love your neighbor as yourself. How you can be born a second time.
As I prayed the Psalms this morning the Spirit brought this cud ‘rabbouni’ back up for me to chew again. In Psalm 143 David cries out to God, Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. But David isn’t satisfied with just head knowledge about God. He groans, Let me experience your faithful love… He longed to go beyond intellectual knowledge about God to personal, experiential knowledge of God’s love. Experiential love is what taught David to be ‘a man after God’s own heart.’ Experiential love transformed Christ from the early disciples’ rabbi into their rabbouni—their personal, intimate teacher.
I, like the disciples, had head knowledge of Christ. I knew the stories and the facts. Then, one evening in the summer of ’78, Jesus spoke my name and my heart opened to the experiential love of Christ. In the words of second century Bishop Melito of Sardis, Nature trembled and said with astonishment: What new mystery is this? …the Invisible One is seen …the Incomprehensible One is comprehended.
Just as he did with Mary, Christ revealed himself by calling my name. He became my rabbouni—my personal, intimate teacher. He revealed to me the mystery of life in him. And he continues to instruct me in this mysterious way. For I am but a beginner in this walk of faith, a small child toddling among Saints. I’m at my best when, like the psalmist, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child.