Jesus Loved Spending Time in a Garden, Was He a Gardener?

It’s a beautiful image. Jesus on his knees tending to his plants in his garden.

Or a much more symbolic picture of him tending to others, growing them in the garden of life.

Raising the question, was Jesus a gardener?

Jesus was not a gardener, but he was mistaken for one by Mary Magdalene in the garden surrounding his tomb.

A post-resurrection story only recorded in the gospel of John.

But it is not surprising that he was found in a garden as Jesus enjoyed spending time in a garden outside of Jerusalem during the last few days of his life.

Jesus also regularly refers to activities of gardening in his teaching.

I was delighted with what I discovered as I researched Jesus and gardening.

But first, we may need to talk terms.

Garden is not a universal term transcending time and space.

Even in our time. Something that tripped me up for a while interacting with people from the U.K. They would speak of their garden, including their entire yard. Whereas a Canadian, that was my backyard, but the small section of dirt that I grew flowers or vegetables in was “my garden”. Not the whole green space behind my house.

What was a garden and gardening for Jesus or the writer of the Gospel of John?

Gardens and Gardeners in Jesus’ Day and Culture

Like us, a garden in Jesus’ time included plants.

Often, a small plot of land fenced in or within a courtyard to retreat to for peace and solitude.

But the gardener was much more of a management role. A watchman or keeper of the garden. Bible Study Tools points out that he was not the one who did the manual labour of planting, pruning and fertilizing the plants. But the one who ensured the garden was protected, and the right people were hired to care for the garden.

Think of Jesus’ parable of the Landowner who goes into town repeatedly throughout the day and hires workers for a denarius to work in his vineyard (Matt.20:1-16).  The landowner is not mending his vines but coordinating workers who are.

Which makes sense why Mary would mistake Jesus for a gardener.

Jesus Mistaken for a Gardener

Going to the tomb and not finding Jesus’ body.

Overwhelmed with emotion, tears streaming down her face because she couldn’t have her “final” moment with her friend.

Turning away from the empty tomb after a brief conversation with “two angels,” don’t think of wings and halo. A man asks her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Well, who would be managing the garden? Moving things around, etc.

The gardener would.

Well, if it was the gardener asking, then a simple question of where he had moved the body was right.

Again, the gardener would be managing the garden.

Please don’t think of graveyards like we do in North America. Tombstones, coffins and buried bodies.

No, first-century Jewish tombs involved management. Moving of bodies was common. Especially considering the speed of his burial.

Jesus, a poor commoner, quickly placed in a tomb as night as the sun’s light fades. Mistakes happen. If he had been placed in the wrong tomb, the gardener would be the man correcting this mistake by moving the body.

One word, “Mary”.

Quickly cleared things up. This was not the gardener but the resurrected Jesus.

Olive Tree

Jesus Spending Time in a Garden

It is interesting that in the week leading up to Jesus’ burial, he spent a lot of time in a garden.

John tells us that it was in a garden that Jesus was found and betrayed by Judas (Jn.18).

Luke calls it Mount of Olives (Lk.22:39), Matthew and Mark call it Gethsemane (Matt.26:36, Mk. 14:32). But John uses a more generic name, “garden.”

John also tells us that Jesus frequents this place, crossing the Kidron Valley (modern name Qidron Valley) after the Last Supper to reach it. Slightly northeast of Jerusalem. Gethsemane and the Mount of Olives are east of Jerusalem.

It was here in this garden, after sightseeing the amazing architect of Herod’s temple, that Jesus talks about its future destruction (Matt.24, Mk.13). Referencing fig trees and then broadening it to all trees budding (Possibly thinking of the Olive trees surrounding them) showing that spring is coming and so there are signs that the end is also coming (Lk.21:29-31).

Luke also shares that not only did Jesus spend time of refuge in the garden during the day but also at night (21:37). During his Jerusalem visit, after teaching all day, he would head out to Mount Olive and spend the night. No Motel 6 but a place to lay his head.

It was also a garden that he found his final resting place. As the new tomb used by Joseph of Arimathea (Matt.27:57, Mk.16:43,47, Lk.23:50, Jn 19:38) to lay Jesus’ body, John tells us was located in a garden (Jn.19:41).

Tradition would say the garden in which Jesus was buried was not the same garden that he would rest in during his life. The Mount of Olives is on the East side of Jerusalem, but the  Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered to be where he was crucified and buried, is on the West side. Nonetheless, he was laid to rest in a garden.

So, I can’t say about the rest of Jesus’ life, but the last week’s gardens played an oversized role.

Jesus and Plants

There are not many stories about Jesus doing any gardening or even working with plants. Keeping in mind that in his time, a “gardener” was much more a management role than a green thumb adventure.

The one story is when he cursed a fig tree.

Fig Tree

He was hungry one morning and came across a fig tree, hoping to grab a quick snack, but found nothing. Cursing the fig tree for not having any fruit, its leaves withered and died (Matt.21:18-19, Mk.11:12-14).

Many would say this action was some parable or object less about Israel, but nonetheless, Jesus was not nurturing the plant at that moment.  

Another time, Jesus says his “Father is a gardener” (Jn.15:1). Which is interesting as others said he was a carpenter. But it is probably more a symbolic comment about his heavenly Father, considering just before Jesus called himself a vine.

But it was not unusual for Jesus to use plants as examples.

Jesus Teaching about Gardening

Probably the most well-known is calling the mustard seed the smallest of garden seeds but grows into a large bush. (Matt.13:31-33, MK.4:30-32, Lk.13:18-19).

Another time, he tells about an unproductive fig tree that the owner wants removed. But the gardener pleads to let him fertilize it and work it for one more year to see if he can make it productive (Luke 13:6-9).

Still about fig trees, Jesus comments on how you can tell the season by the leaves. Connecting how you can do the same with society. Telling future changes by events today (Matt.24:32, Mk.13:28, Lk.21:29-31).

In Luke 6, along the vein of recognizing, Jesus says you can recognize a tree by its fruit. I am sure every gardener would agree. It is easy to mistake a plant when it first sprouts, but once the fruit starts to grow, it is much easier to know.

The most shocking of his garden stories is of a landlord who builds a wall around a plot of land. Sets everything up for a beautiful garden and then rents it out. But instead of honouring the arrangement, the new tenants refuse to pay rent. Mistreat those who send to inquire of the garden and finally murder his son (Matt.21:33-41, Mk,12:1-12, Lk.20:9-18).

Jesus tells many more stories about planting, growing and harvesting, but more in the context of farming. Similar but, in our culture, distinctly different. 

Conclusion

Yes, Jesus was mistaken once as a gardener and enjoyed spending time there. He even talked about gardens and growing plants, but in the end, I think it’s best to conclude that Jesus was not a gardener.

Ryan Nickel

Two loves of my life beyond my wife and 4 children are history and the person of Jesus. From childhood, I was captivated by history and still love reading and learning about the past. One life in particular that intrigues me in history is the person of Jesus. It's fascinating to think about how the course of human history was changed by a carpenter turned preacher. Both in our times and also in his. I attempt to process all I am learning about him through conversations, writing and shooting videos about the life and teachings of Jesus. With each word drawing me closer into his life. Ryan Nickel has been part of range of churches, including Baptist, Evangelical Free and Church of Christ. In 1999 I graduated from Peace River Bible Institute with a Bachelor of Religious Studies.

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