SCRIPTURE FOR LIVING
Patrick Purnell SJ, in the first of a series of four practical studies of the scriptures, matches an everyday story with an incident in Christ's live and seeks inspiration in analysis and prayer
to you." (John 13:1-15) Bible reading FROM the first moment his mother met Yvonne, hostility hovered in the air. Afterwards his mother said "she's just after you. She doesn't deserve you. What can she give you?"
It was not all on his mother's side. "1 need this," Yvonne said, grasping a gin and tonic, as she collapsed afterwards in the local bar. "Love! 1 have not the least desire to hurt you, but I am glad there's air space between me and your mum!"
Now it was not just the reproach written across his mother's face but her whole body spelt disapproval. She had put aside the book she had been reading when he entered, taken off her glasses, held them tightly in her left hand and marked time with them as she emphasised each word. "She's totally unsuitable for you."
Stephen recognised the posture, remembered the tone of voice. When he was small she had paralysed him. Now she made his heart sink. He knew it was going to be difficult but, having been away for three years, he had forgotten just how difficult it could be. He believed she loved him, indeed had an unremitting love for him, but it was a love which controlled him which tried to mould and fashion him according to what she thought best for him.
He remained silent, not knowing what to say. He felt bruised and hurt by his mother's words. Where was he going to get the language from to explain just how he felt for Yvonne when he, himself, could not really understand what was going on inside him. He asked himself for the hundredth time "did he love her?"
And the answer was always "yes! but ... ". The "but" always came too. What he experienced most of all was his need of her.
Yes , there was a physical need but it wasn't just that. She brought him to life. She allowed him to be himself in ways he had never known before.
With her he had shared more of himself than with any other person before. Was that what love was all about? Was this the way one chose a partner for life? BEFORE the festival of the Passover, Jesus, knowing that his hour had come to pass from the world to the Father, having loved those who were his in the world, loved them to the end.
They were at supper, and the devil had already put it into the mind of Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray him. Jesus knew that the Father had put everything into his hands, that he had come from God and was returning to God, and he got up. from the table, removed his outer garments and taking a towel, wrapped it round his waist: he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel he was wearing.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him "Lord arc you going to wash my feet?"
Jesus answered "at the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand."
"Never!" said Peter, "you shall never wash my feet."
Jesus replied "if I do not wash you, you can have no share with me."
Simon Peter said "well then, Lord, not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!"
Jesus said "no one who has had a bath needs washing, such a person is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are."
He knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said "though not all of you are".
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments again he went back to the table. "Do you understand, he said, "what I have done to you? You call me master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done Analysis
YVONNE brought Stephen a sense of life which he had never experienced before. She loved him in a way that made no demands on him.
He could just be himself. All his life he had known his mother's love. She cared for him and protected him. He felt safe in her presence. She was a strong woman with very firm ideas about life, about what to do and how to behave.
In responding to her love, he had done his best to please her but he felt he had never quite lived up to her expectations of him. Now he felt he was somehow or other betraying her. Yvonne seemed to have no expectations of him. She accepted him just as he was.
Christ came to bring life. In all his encounters with people, life was his gift. His love set people free. Knowing that he had come from God and was returning to God, he washed his disciples' feet in an outpouring of love. There was nothing he would not do for them.
"Never!" said Peter. Such was Peter's response to the Lord kneeling before him with a basin of water. "You shall never wash my feet." Peter appears in the gospels larger than life. He responds generously and wholeheartedly to Jesus' words, "follow me!". There is nothing he wouldn't do.
And so he was thrown when Jesus said "Now you cannot follow me where I am going, but later you shall follow me". Peter undoubtedly loved Jesus and his friendship was one of the greatest things in his life, but Peter was also captivated by the possibility of being part of some great messianic triumph.
There was so much promise about Jesus, the miracles, the
wonders, the crowds hanging on his lips. "Why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you" ? (cf John 13:14) He was ready and eager to lay down his life in a cause which he believed would end in a triumphant victory.
Such would be a glorious way to die! What he found so difficult to grasp was that other side of Jesus, the ignominy of failure. When Jesus had once spoken of his end in terms of suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes and of being put to death, Peter rebuked him. "Heaven preserve you Lord," he said,"this must not happen to you." Jesus reproached him severely. "Get behind me, satan! You are an obstacle in my path, because you are thinking not as God thinks but as human beings do" (Matthew 16:21-3) Prayer
Creator God source of life and love, enable me to understand my need of people and of people's need of me. Grant that my love for people may not constrain them or put them under obligation to me, May I love people in such a way that they may enjoy true freedom and be really true to Taken from "Which Way do I choose?" by Patrick Purnell SJ, published by Dorton Longman and Todd in the Scripture for Living series, price £3.95. Next week how can I pray by Ian Petit OSB