There’s a story in John’s Gospel where Jesus was crucified and according to the story he was raised from the dead after three days. Whether one believes that this story is literally true or not is beside the point, because I believe that regardless of whether or not it’s true, there is something we can take from his words.
After he was buried, his mother Mary went to visit the tomb and found it empty. She then turned around and saw Jesus standing behind her, but at first she didn’t recognise him and mistook him for the gardener. She asked him if he knew where they had taken Jesus’ body and then he said to her, “Mary” at which point she realised it was him. She cried out, “teacher!” And then he said something to her which seems really cold and hurtful; he said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (Joh 20:11 -17 NIV)
There’s something really painful in these words of Jesus. Mary just watched him being killed in the most horrific way and she though he was dead. The next moment, he’s back and she’s probably elated to see him, but then he tells her not to hold on to him because he’s going to go away again. If you’ve ever lost someone – whether it’s through a death or a break-up – then perhaps you can relate with me and feel the pain attached to these words: “Don’t hold on to me”.
Both Jesus and the Buddha preached non-attachment and it’s funny that Jesus would say these words to Mary – “don’t cling to me” – almost as if he’s saying it to all of his followers, yet clinging to Jesus is exactly what Christians have done. You see, we want to believe that there is someone or something that we can cling to that will make everything okay and bring us everlasting happiness, and in this case, we’ve done it with Jesus even though his message is “don’t cling; not even to me.”
Is it possible to love without attachment? Popular culture would have us believe that it is not. We’ve been conditioned to think that there is a perfect person out there and if we want to live “happily ever after” we need to cling to that person. There’s a popular song by Megan Trainor and John Legend that says, “I’m gonna love you, like I’m gonna lose you.” So, essentially, “I want to cling to you; I want to possess you and never lose you.” And that might sound very nice and romantic, but the reality is that those kinds of relationships are based on fear and insecurity and often become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve seen this play out in my own relationships. When lovers are so afraid of losing each other, they start projecting that fear onto one another. They start seeing all the reasons why they should doubt each other and that anxiety starts causing all kinds of problems in the relationship and instead of keeping the person, they end up pushing them away. More often than not, clinging has the exact opposite effect than what is intended. Once again I’m reminded of something that Jesus said: “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.” (Matt 16:25 NIV)