Thursday, April 17, 2008

Thursday in the 4th Week of Easter
Weaving An Exhortation

Readings: Acts 13:13-25; Psalm 89:2-3, 21-22, 25 and 27; John 13:16-20
Picture: CC N creatures

If one of you has a word of exhortation for the people, please speak…

Anyone who’s ever tried it will testify to the fact that it’s not easy to convince others to do the right thing. Difficult enough to summon up the willpower to do what we ourselves know to be right, let alone to convince others. After all, isn’t it true that many of us can resonate with these words of Paul in the letter to the Romans? I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… (Romans 7:15) How then do we deal with this difficulty? How do we receive and offer exhortation in ways that have some chance at success?

Our readings help to shed some light on this difficult question, since both Paul – in the first reading – and Jesus – in the gospel – are engaged precisely in the task of exhortation, or (in another translation) encouragement. Paul’s aim is to move his listeners to repent and to entrust their lives to the Crucified and Risen Christ, just as Jesus’ preoccupation is with encouraging his disciples to copy his example in earlier washing their feet. How do Paul and Jesus go about exhorting their listeners?

They do so in ways that are at once starkly different and yet deeply similar. Consider first the difference. Notice the method Paul adopts. He doesn’t begin by shouting at the people and telling them what to do. Instead, he actually launches into what seems to be a rather long speech – long enough that we will have to continue listening to it at Mass tomorrow. And notice what he says. His is not so much a speech as it is a story, a story that includes Israel’s experience of God in Egypt. In contrast, while Paul relies more on the spoken word, Jesus chooses a method that emphasizes ritual action. He washes his disciples’ feet. At least in today's readings, whereas Paul adopts the way of the storyteller, Jesus chooses the way of the servant.

Still, different though these approaches may seem at first, they actually share something in common. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the similarity is not so much in something as it is in someone. For Paul’s storytelling is more than a fanciful narration of tall tales or an imaginative spinning of fantastic yarns. What he is doing is weaving together several crucial strands into a tight tapestry. Through his words, the personal stories of each listener, as well as the communal story of Israel and her God, are being skillfully woven together with the crucial narrative of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The hope is that, in experiencing their own story so intimately intertwined with that of the Crucified and Risen One, each listener will be moved to act.

Likewise, isn’t Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet a means by which he seeks to draw them more closely into an intimate relationship with himself? Isn’t this why he can tell Peter that unless he washes him, Peter can have nothing in common with him (see John 13:8)? Isn’t this close association to the point of identification also what lies behind Jesus’ closing words in today’s gospel? Whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. What Paul weaves together through the spoken word, Jesus seeks to unite through ritual action. And it also becomes clear, at this point, how closely this process of exhortation mirrors what should be our experience at each Eucharist. Here, through spoken word and ritual action, we open ourselves to being more closely identified with Christ, and so begin to find strength to do what needs to be done. Again in the words of the Letter to the Romans: who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

How are we being called to accept and to weave the tapestry of exhortation today?


  1. Now I see: "The hope is that, in experiencing their own story so intimately intertwined with that of the Crucified and Risen One, each listener will be moved to act"! May I always remember this.

    I'm a catechist assistant this year and I find myself challenged to "weave the tapestry of exhortation" for a group of teenagers who have gone through over six rounds of catechism and are very bored most of the time.

    Jesus teaches with authority and Paul knows how to pitch his story/speech just right for different audiences. Who am I? I truly hope that I can understand the worlds, minds and hearts of these youths so that I can reach out to them right where they are - not physically, but mentally and emotionally.

  2. You choose such powerful images to relate; understated and yet direct. I am drawn first to the eyes of the weavers; then to the demure smiles of the two which seem to be saying, "we have a story to tell in this effort of threading together an image as a livelihood".
    Similarly if we look to the icons of the Eastern tradition, they represent their exhortations in the form of art - recounting the gospel stories, visually crafted. These disparate mediums point us to the ulitmate reality of this singular person in history - The Alpha and the Omega.
    Beyond simply communicating in words alone, we find continuity in expressed traditions and rituals . God is, was and always will be, ever present in time, concretized in our collective memories.
    The gospel readings remind us to hold fast to these unchanging values, given to us by none other than the Man-God, our Lord and Saviour.


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