Honoring Life’s Complexity

Ronald Rolheiser
Reproduced with Permission

It was one and the same Jesus who, at a lavish supper with a woman at his feet bathing him in perfume and affection, could tell his uncomfortable hosts that he was thoroughly enjoying the moment without a trace of guilt and who could tell the same people that the deepest secret of life is to give it all up in self-sacrifice without a trace of thought for yourself.

After the lecture, a young man came up to me and questioned me about the first prong: How could Jesus give himself over to that kind of enjoyment and pleasure? My answer: Precisely because of the other part, his capacity to renounce. One relies on the other, like the two wings on an airplane. Jesus had a shocking capacity to enjoy life because he had an equally shocking capacity to give it up. That is also true of many other aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry: He could condemn sin, but love the sinner; be fiercely loyal to his own, even as he shocked them in his love of those outside their circle; and he could walk in the greatest freedom anyone has ever known, even as he acknowledged that he did nothing on his own.

And that kind of complexity, that kind of capacity to hold near opposites together in a healthy tension, is one of the marks of greatness.

Jesus carried all truth, in all its complexity. Unfortunately, we, his followers, are not up to the master. That’s why there hundreds of different Christian denominations today. That’s also why there are liberals and conservatives both in our churches and our society. We find it easier to carry smaller pieces of the truth than to carry the tension of being loyal to its bigger picture.

Simplicity and clarity aren’t always our friends.