Monday, February 14, 2011

The woman and Jesus on Valentine’s day

Another Valentine’s day is coming to an end with lots of flower sales and card exchanges. Lovers and couples are made to believe that they have to buy each other something to make the cut this Valentine’s. Love and sex will be most on the minds of the young and the old. But the modern day love and sex don’t need true arousal as they are ready made five minute mixes which are over even before they start. Relationships could also follow the same pattern. Luke 7: 36-50 could be interpreted as the valentine expression of a woman who is perceived as a sinner. She brings in a new notion to Valentine’s day as not just a ready mix day but one which explores the various senses of a human being.

Worship involves the activation and constant interpolation of the five senses of a human being. The senses include touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing. We obviously do not give much thought to the activation and the coherent expression of these five senses and many a time maybe even forget about their existence. Nevertheless these senses when used in various combinations bring forth very effective interaction. Two of the important senses are touch and smell.

1. Touch is one of the most active steps of sense activation that we can undertake. In many of Jesus’ miracle acts what he does goes beyond the miracle because it involves touching those who were not touched. This is not just a spiritual and inward touch but a clear physical touch which involved challenging the prevalent system of untouchability which was practised in various forms. When Jesus arrives at the Pharisee’s house there seems to be no indication that anyone received him with an introductory touch. Rather what we see is a woman referred to as a sinner who comes with an alabaster jar of perfume. She wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair, kisses them and pours perfume on them. As we usually concentrate on the woman who lived a sinful life in the town what we ignore is the woman who touched Jesus with her physical and sensual touch. Our feet are one of our most sensitive yet most ignored body parts. The sense we feel when we are touched by someone at the feet is indeed very arousing. Yet we usually refer to the touching of the feet as a mark of respect (as is done in Indian culture) and forget that it also has a very distinct and clear meaning which goes beyond just mere respect. In the church the main part of touching is the kiss of peace, which again should have been a kiss but is now a shake of both hands and even that is done half heartedly. At times members of the opposite sex try to avoid touching each other in this otherwise very meaningful ritual practised in church. The washing of the feet during passion week also becomes an act of service and is never seen as anything beyond that. The kissing of the feet by the woman adds to this sensual awakening. How can then a woman who had led a sinful life bring about a sensual awakening? Her love as mentioned by Jesus covers any sin that she may have been accused of. So what for many may seem as a passage of servitude, discipleship, and confession may very well also be seen as a passage of love, passion and sensuality. When everybody goes for Jesus’ upper body, the woman goes for his feet. The church is always seen as shying away from touch. We refuse to touch the untouchable, we refuse to acknowledge that touch is sensual and we in the mean time run the business of touching souls, while the bodies wither away. Maybe we need to look at scriptures more publicly and sensually for us to come to a different understanding of touch. Valentine’s day is a perfect punching bag for different religious groups and I wonder whether it is only because of the commercialisation of Valentine’s day or it is because of the refusal to acknowledge that expressing one’s sensuality is not religiously acceptable?
2. Smell is another of the senses which can arouse our feelings. Aromatherapy is now marketed in India as a spiritual and mental well being that we can feel when we use certain products which arouse and bring out our sense of smell. In India we live amidst the dichotomy of smell. We have what we can call the rich produced smell and what is the poor natural smell. The woman in the passage has a strange mix of both! She wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and then pours perfume on them. Her tears are her own and they are as therapeutic for her as for Jesus. The drops which fall on Jesus’ feet may have caused a second arousal. She wipes off the tears with her own hair and then puts perfume. The base smell which she provides is her own. This is followed by the constructed smell of the perfume. The perfume adds to the olfactory delight that Jesus was being put through. Truly a great experience! The church more or less relies on incense to provide for the awakening of the sense of smell. This is complimented by the hundreds of smells emanating from the bodies of the congregation. If we care to take a dig into the variety of smells we will be aroused into action in church. What actually happens is that we turn off our smell sense and in our aim to attain holiness we keep away from everything which may awaken our minds. But think of using the smell as a welcome arousal of our senses to function better and to espouse this great feeling of love just like the woman who toyed with the feet of Jesus? In essence what happens in church is that we take away the senses of people or we try to numb them. This keeps our bodies in a state of non-orgasmic existence while our spirits are taken into ecstasy. The woman in the passage arouses us to our senses just like she may have aroused Jesus. Are we ashamed by our arousal or are we tickled to action? As others ignore Jesus, the woman welcomes him by arousing him and Jesus likes it! This Valentine’s the usual debate will continue. But Valentine’s or no Valentine’s are we willing to accept the closeness that people feel towards one another. Are we willing to allow others to be aroused? The flowers are only one particular way of doing this but there are other smells as well. This rounds up as the smell of love and warmth felt towards one another as well as the smell of passion which couples will sense and feel towards one another. Who are we to prevent this? The Pharisee tries to unlike the touch of the woman but Jesus reminds him of the woman’s love which refuses to subside. I am aroused, are you?

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lalitha Jayachitra (Facebook, 15-2-2011)- Jesus liked it, I like it too. lol
good you shared with those who could not hear you last week.

Fr Jerry said...

Yes Chitra. Jesus indeed liked it. And we all like it too. And I like that you like it that Jesus liked it. :)

Anonymous said...

Rohan Gideon (Facebook, 15-2-2011)- Thanks jerry for sharing your thoughts. I got to know first hand that many liked it (your meditation) and the thought that Jesus liked it (i dint mean your meditation, but the arousal) :-)

It's a very rare kind of reading the text and you have broken many boundaries, questioning the 'shame' aspect which we otherwise secretly enjoy!

Fr Jerry said...

Good thought Rohan. I was challenged to think this way because of the NCCI workshop. So thanks is due to Jione who challenged many of us. And due thanks also to the other participants who involved themselves actively. It is funny that I otherwise never thought of this passage like this.

Anonymous said...

good read.will make people think out of the box

Fr Jerry said...

Yes. We all need to think out of the box. It helps in understanding the real Jesus and also in knowing what to do ourselves.

Zach George Arapura said...

Dear Achen,
IMHO the traditional Churches frown upon mingling of sexes. They shy away from anything that is related mildly to sensuality or eroticism. We have been conditioned to think by the Church that anything sensual or anything which gives pleasure must be inherently wrong. Deep inside we are happy about it but are unwilling to admit it. We tend to categorize such emotions/sentiments as guilty pleasure.
I’ve read some interpretation of the passage that says the ‘sinful’ woman expresses her love and adoration for Yeshu along with her repentance (?) by her action. (I am not sure of what she is repenting. The Book is very vague about this topic.)
I’ve never thought about Yeshu in this passage. I’ve been focussed on the woman, her sins and her repentance. This is the first time I’m hearing that Yeshu may have enjoyed the sensation and may have been even aroused by it. I am incredibly grateful to you for providing this line of thought.Normally this passage is perceived to contain the ‘divine/godly’ elements of Yeshu. But you have provided a ‘human’ dimension to this situation.
IMHO Yeshu definitely enjoyed this sensation and it may be his attempt to provide his disciples this sensation that he himself washed their feet.
I thank you for sharing this ‘arousing’ thought.
Sincerely,
Zach George Arapura

Fr Jerry said...

Dear Mr. Zach George Arapura,
Thanks very much for your comment. I am deeply impressed that you have taken a good long look at the passage. What you have said is true. The church in its early stage must have taken a conscious stance against eroticism to appear different. But later on it was mutely accepted without much thought into why this was so. I wonder what people in church would think of this interpretation. Atleast three including you are atleast open to consider it (which is a good sign). The washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus goes further in expression of love and as a sign of arousal. Guess we can explore that in detail further. Thanks again.

ciya said...

Achen,
Wonderfully written.can this passage be seen as a reflection of Jesus as complete man and at the same time complete God?
Ciya

Fr. Jerry Kurian said...

Thanks for commenting Ciya. The church indeed gives importance to both the divine and human nature of Jesus. There have been many misunderstandings in the history of Christianity because of seeing this differently. This passage seen in this particular way (as in the post) seeks to say that the humanity of Jesus should not be submerged in his divinity. Jesus suffered the pain on the cross. This way he also felt pain and pleasure in varying degrees. One doe not need to be ashamed of talking about these feelings.

Fr. Jerry Kurian said...

Thanks for commenting Ciya. The church indeed gives importance to both the divine and human nature of Jesus. There have been many misunderstandings in the history of Christianity because of seeing this differently. This passage seen in this particular way (as in the post) seeks to say that the humanity of Jesus should not be submerged in his divinity. Jesus suffered the pain on the cross. This way he also felt pain and pleasure in varying degrees. One doe not need to be ashamed of talking about these feelings.