I recently saw Into the Wild, a film that came out in 2007 that tells the true story of a young man who, after graduating from college, left his family and his bourgeois world in search of happiness, thinking that he could find it in a state of total isolation from civilization. After a rather long journey in solitude – during which, paradoxically, he lives out a series of extremely profound and meaningful encounters with others – he retires to the wilderness of Alaska.

In his solitude, Chris, who even changed his name to Alexander in order to cut off any trace of his own past, feels that he has discovered something essential. The moment when he wants to go back and tell about his discovery, however, he can’t go back the way he came because the river that he had crossed is now a torrent. Forced to remain in the wild solitude of Alaska, he discovers that the wasteland is not made for man because true “happiness is only real when shared.” These are his last words, his true discovery.

I have the impression that the myth of Into the Wild lives on in the depths of each one of us. We have that pretension that life is only ours and that it is our right to claim our original autonomy which society has hidden and altered. We think of ourselves as separate individuals, destined to fight and compete against each other in order to claim the right of one’s own personal space. At most, we decide to generously concede someone else a bit of our attention, but it is always for a mere personal gain. The old Canon Law and the Casti Connubial even speak of “remedium concupiscentiae” regarding marriage, as if even the conjugal relationship could be understood as something that I do for myself, for my interest in order to avoid mistakes and to stay out of trouble.

This “I” that we continually put in the center betrays reality. But, in order to understand it, the protagonist of Into the Wild needed to die.

Facing the question of the Pharisees (Mk 10, 2-16), men who are exact prototype of the modern man who puts himself in the center and wants to read everything in function of his own exclusive interests, Jesus refers to the start of it all, to the beginning: a word that in biblical language indicates that which serves as the foundation, that which always happens, that which is the base.

At base there is a relationship, we have already been thought of in relation. Man bears inside an emptiness, a space that has given rise to another, a woman, symbol of every difference. Man has been constituted with an original emptiness that can only be filled by relationship. In fact, before this human relationship, there is a relationship that is even more original that man cannot do without the relationship with God who, as his first generous and free act towards man, offered him his friendship and welcomed him into the garden that he planted just for him. Of course, man can decide to leave the garden, just as he can decide to keep that emptiness inside and not allow anyone else to fill it. He cannot, however, deny that there is a garden, nor can he deny that there is that emptiness inside him. We can even decide to cut off our ties with the world and seek out refuge in Alaska, but nothing can erase our identity of being beings made for relationship.

The man that puts himself in the center is just like the Pharisee that is looking for guarantees: the Pharisees “test” Jesus, the premise that he is going to take a side, they want to know what side he is on, but, above all, they want guarantees, they want things to be clear, they want to be able to legitimately take care of their own proper interests. The Pharisee is the person that puts his interests in the center and wants to legitimize his claim.

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Christ_Accused_by_the_Pharisees_(detail)_-_WGA06802

Duccio di Boninsegna @ Wikipedia Creative Commons

When relationships stop working, we all become Pharisees, we start trying to delineate the borders, to clarify things, to establish responsibility. But when relationships work, Jesus says, we no longer need to appeal to the law, the heart is enough. Love tells us who to be in relation.

Relationships, even marital ones, cannot be for Jesus a question of law. Protecting the weaker one of the relationship is not a formal question, it is a question of the heart. But the heart is uncertain and tricky, so the Pharisee that is inside of us starts to seek out security and clarification. This is the point when the relationship stops working!

It may seem paradoxical that this evangelical scene abandons the debate and, almost out of nowhere, shifts towards a group of children that have been reprimanded by the disciples and adults. But this is the exact key to understanding Jesus’ words: the child is the weak one that we reprimand but, in reality, we should instead welcome and protect. The kingdom of God doesn’t belong to those who try to protect their interests, rather to those who, recognizing their own weakness, ask to be embraced by a father. Children, unlike the protagonist of Into the Wild, do not escape the world, rather they have the innocence and unscrupulousness to shout out their need of being loved, exactly what Chris wasn’t able to do.

Questions for personal reflection:

– What spaces in your life need to be filled by relationships with others?

– Do you too seek to protect yourself in your relationships?

Original text translated by Garrett Johnson. Featured Image: Paxson Wielder @ Flickr