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How to tell stories
Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday are the backbone of our faith. They are essential to our Christian lives. They show us the way to become Christians. During these three days, we have several stories to tell. The question for me right now is how to tell a story. Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher, is very helpful in this regard. For Buber, a story is more than the reflection of an event. It is in itself an event. It has the consecration of a holy action. Its power is always at work. Every time the story of a miracle is recalled, it becomes efficacious.
To understand the efficacy of the act of telling a story, let us listen to this account. There was a rabbi who told the story of his grandfather, a disciple of the Baal Shem, Master of the Good Name. He said, “my grandfather was paralyzed. One day, people asked him to tell a story about his master. My grandfather described how the Baal Shem used to dance and to jump around when he was praying. To demonstrate what his master had done, my grandfather stood up and danced and jumped around. And by doing so, my grandfather was healed of his paralysis.” That is the way to tell a story!
My loving self-gift is for you all
John begins the foot washing account by giving us the meaning behind Jesus’ action. What he did for his disciples was not merely a gesture of hospitality. It was an act of love: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” The expression “love to the end” has a double meaning: love without limits or love until death. The second meaning was particularly underlined when Jesus added that “[his] hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.” His death was a perfect expression of his loving self-gift. It is within this context of self-gift that we can understand the meaning of today’s celebration.
Jesus’ Supper is a perpetual memorial. “Doing in remembrance” of him means that his self-gift is ever-present at each celebration. When we repeat Jesus’ words, “this is my body that is for you,” we do not only make possible his self-gift, but we also express our willingness to be self-gift for our brothers and sisters. “This is my body that is for you.” Those words are not completely accomplished until they become mine. This is my self-gift for you all. Those words are true for all kinds of self-giving and especially in self-giving in marriage.
I understand it by myself when I do it
Self-giving goes hand in hand with taking care of others. Jesus showed us the most powerful example of this interaction when, out of love for his disciples, he washed their feet. By doing so, he invited us to embrace a new way of being with others and for others. His explanation to Peter is striking: “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Later, but when? Probably when Peter will do the same himself. As Jesus had done for him, he must also do for others. He becomes the leader of the group only when he follows the example of his master.
Between the “now” and the “later,” there is a consummate act of loving self-gift. Jesus laid aside his garments as he laid aside his very life. He washed his disciples’ feet in order to incorporate them within himself. He said to Peter, “unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” In other words, unless I wash you, you will have no part with me and in me. The footwashing becomes a new way of being Jesus’ disciples. It is not optional. It is the necessary condition to having part of the self-giving love that is redemptive. If we want to follow Jesus, we need to repeat this gesture and perpetuate its spirit of service. It is not to be a “one-off” or “one-and-done” kind of service for show. It is our way of being. It is our lifestyle. It is our identity.
I listen to stories to form my own identity
It is important to see how our identity is formed through biblical stories. Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher, speaks about the narrative identity. For Ricoeur, our knowledge of self is an interpretation. We are not the same over time. We are figure-able. In other words, when we read a story, we learn from it to form our own identity. Through the actions of each character in the story, we need to find the coherence of our own lives. We need to assume our actions, as personal and responsible human beings. We have access to ourselves through the mediation of stories. That is why stories become a mirror in which we read what is deep within us. They shape our lives. They give a meaning to our lives.
It is true not only for today’s stories, but also for those of tomorrow, including the story of the Passion of the Lord. In fact, there is a subversive effect in the act of telling stories. We tell tragic stories in order to acknowledge their harmful consequences. We need to repeat them again and again so that we can know how to recognize and avoid the errors of the past. We overcome evil only when we really know how evil it is! After Jesus’ brutal death, every act of violence is one too many. With his death and burial, we bury what is contrary to life: hatred and heartlessness, denial and betrayal, apathy and jealousy, violence and vengeance, discrimination and division.
Today’s world is still marked by all kinds of brokenness. As Jesus’ disciples, we are to act like him and with him in a spirit of loving self-gift. To imitate Jesus is not only to follow his teaching, but also to adopt his way of being. To become another Christ for the life of the world is to translate his way of being in our concrete situations. Where there is hatred, be a sower of love. Where there is violence, be a person of peace. Where there is division, be an agent of reconciliation. We are to do good and to be good even though sometimes the reality of the world gives us the impression that our efforts are useless. We are to live a life-giving style even though selfishness and jealousy still exist everywhere and in ourselves as well. With Jesus as our companion, we continue our journey with its ups and downs. With him, we engage in every challenging battle with this conviction: in the middle of the darkness of human existence, there is already a divine spark of the light of Resurrection.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, help me to incorporate your way of being in my daily life.
Resolution: Read aloud today’s Gospel with friends or family members.