There’s nothing simple about being a human being. We’re a mystery to ourselves and are often our own worst enemies. Our inner complexity befuddles us and, not infrequently, stymies us. Nowhere is this truer than in our struggle with love and intimacy.
More than anything else, we hunger for intimacy, to be touched where we are most tender, where we are most ourselves, where all that’s most precious in us lies, vulnerable and yearning. Yet, in the actual face of intimacy, sensitive people often become disquieted and resistant.
We see two powerful instances of this in the Gospels. The first is in the story, recorded in all four Gospels, where a woman enters a room where Jesus is dining and, in a series of lavish gestures, breaks an expensive bottle of perfume, pours the perfume onto his feet, washes his feet with her tears, dries them with her hair, and then begins to kiss his feet. What’s the response of those in the room, save for Jesus? Discomfort and resistance. This shouldn’t be happening! Everyone shifts uncomfortably in their chairs in the face of this raw expression of love and Jesus himself has to challenge them to look at the source of their discomfort.
Among other things, he points out that, ironically, what they are uncomfortable with is what lies at the very centre of life and at the very centre of their deepest desires: namely, the pure giving and receiving of love and affection. It’s this, Jesus affirms, for which we are alive and it’s this experience which prepares us for death. It’s what we are alive for. It’s also what we most yearn for. So why do we experience discomfort and resistance when we actually face it in life?
The second instance occurs in John’s Gospel where, at the Last Supper, Jesus tries to wash his disciples’ feet. As John records it, Jesus got up from the table, stripped off his outer robe, took a basin and towel, and began to wash his disciples’ feet. But he meets discomfort and resistance, clearly voiced by Peter who simply tells Jesus: “Never! You will never wash my feet!”
Why? Why the resistance? Why resistance in the face of the fact that no doubt more than anything else, what Peter most deeply desired was exactly that Jesus should wash his feet, that he would enjoy this kind of intimacy with Jesus?
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