John Le Carre wrote a heartbreaking but graceful book in 2001 — “The Constant Gardener” — that was quickly adapted as an equally haunting film. The Emmy-awarded adaptation, starring Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, is a masterpiece of tragic love, intrigue, and political scandal.
Weisz’s character, an incorrigible idealist named Tessa, shines the light of truth on a pharmaceutical company’s dealings in Africa: The greed, cover-ups, and shameful practices. For this, she pays with her life, murdered by the corrupt system whose greed will not be challenged.
Her husband, played by Fiennes, is a gentle diplomat accustomed to following the correct channels in matters of controversy. Yet, he finds an unusual strength after his wife’s death. It is the strength to finish her work, traveling land and sea for the sake of the truth, sacrificing his reputation, his career, and ultimately his life to stop the death machine mowing down African lives.
Le Carre’s use of the title, “Constant Gardner” is not so much about Fiennes’ hobby in the film, though indeed, he is forever nurturing plants, pulling weeds, and raking leaves. In many of the movie’s scenes he has dirt under his fingernails, a watering pot is in his hand, and he regularly carries about fertilizer and plant food.
No, both he and his wife do what gardeners always do: They dig. They cultivate. They get dirty, their hands stained with earth and manure. For what? For life. Death is everywhere in this book and in this film, but they keep at it, beating back the brambles to give other people the chance to truly live.
It was “The Constant Gardener” that crossed my mind as I read a Gospel passage for this weekend’s Easter celebration. Mary Magdalene, the first person to encounter the resurrected Christ, encounters him outside the tomb where he had been buried. Failing to recognize him at first, the Gospel of John says, “She thought he was the gardener.” Mary wasn’t wrong.
In a world shrouded by corruption, hatefulness, death, and greed, Jesus dug in — the constant gardener — doing all that was necessary for life to flourish. This is what Easter Sunday is about, and this — as a resurrection people — are what we are to be about. We tend the soil, tirelessly cultivating what is good, right, just, and peaceful in order to give life a chance.
We should be unafraid to get our hands dirty with the work of justice. We must get the earth under our fingernails as we seek the truth. The best we can, we stem the tide of death, theft, and destruction. We, with heaven’s guidance, are called to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy: “They will cause the desert to blossom, making the barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord.”
Mary Magdalene didn’t make a mistake that first Easter morning. Rather, she saw Jesus in his essential vocation: As the cultivator of life. Let us be about this work ourselves, that seeds planted in the garden of life will forever grow.