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Dave Brisbin

Clinging Not

One of the most cinematic scenes in the gospels is at John 20 where Mary Magdalene is sobbing by the empty tomb, and the risen Jesus asks why she is weeping. She whirls to confront the voice but not until he calls her name does she recognize. She calls out to him, and Jesus immediately replies, stop clinging to me. We don’t need to be told that she runs to him, falls down sobbing and clasping his feet in the ancient eastern custom. Our minds connect those dots. We see it all on our inner screens.

Why would Jesus break off such a human response? Under the circumstances, to say it’s a cold reply is a world-class understatement. But like any good film, nothing is presented in the gospels without purpose—the real estate is far too precious. Jesus is hammering that though his love for Mary hasn’t changed, the nature of their relationship is now radically different. Just as Moses couldn’t enter the promised land because the people had begun relying on him rather than God, Jesus told his friends that he needed to leave them so they could experience God’s presence directly and graduate from vicariously clinging to becoming as one with Presence as he was.

Painfully, that process begins with a loss. It always does.

Is there anything Jesus would tell us to stop clinging to? He’s pretty clear. He says flat out that anyone unwilling to give up all they have can’t go where he is going. What part of everything don’t we understand? This may sound pathological, but he’s exposing a reality of life. Since the moment our primary needs as humans were first frustrated in early childhood, we’ve been building unconscious programs for happiness and survival that we don’t even know exist. We become addicted to our intelligence, talent, family, career, mission, theology, politics, wealth, as essential elements of control over uncertainty.

But anything on which we rely short of pure Presence, even Moses or our image of Jesus, is limiting us, blocking us from that Presence. When Jesus says stop clinging, he is saying that holding on to what has sustained us, or at least soothed us to date, is now keeping us from what sets us free.


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