This is the homily I delivered at the Expatriate Community Mass at St. Theresia Church this afternoon.
"The Story of Our Life Belt"
Deshi Ramadhani, SJ
Expatriate Community, Holy Thursday Mass, April 1, 2010
I bought a leather belt more than ten years ago when I was still a student. This is how it looks now: a bit deformed, but still good. I believe that each belt has recorded in itself our life story. As you can see, out of five holes, three have been used. One was used when I was ten kilograms heavier than I am now. The other was when I was for a very short period ten kilograms less than I am now. And the middle hole is for how I am now. In other words, along the way, I had to decide which hole would fit best for me, not too loose, not too tight, but just right.
The first reading and the Gospel today speak about some sort of belt. In the first reading, we have that image of the Israelites getting ready for the flight from Egypt. The promise of freedom is right there before their eyes, soon to be fulfilled. “This is how you are to eat it: with your loins girt, sandals on your feet and your staff in hand, you shall eat like those who are in flight.” In our modern language, “with your loins girt” means “with your belt rightly buckled around your waist, not too loose, not too tight, but just right.
Belt, or girded waist, speaks loudly about readiness. So here is the pun: you are ready for the flight only when your waist is tied. Time is so limited. You will loose it if you still need to look for your belt, to take it, to put it around your waist, and to tie it rightly. Freedom should come from being tied. Running away from the slavery in Egypt does not mean that they will never be tied any more at all. True freedom requires a certain amount of being tied.
What about Jesus? “He rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist.” Jesus ties himself with the towel around his waist as if it were a belt. So, again, belt speaks loudly about readiness. Jesus, who is completely free, lets himself to be tied. He wants to show us, that true freedom should be celebrated from our being tied. The challenge is just the same. One needs to do it right: not too loose, not too tight, but just right.
Yes, belt speaks loudly about readiness. But there is something more with Jesus. He uses towel. He wants not only to wash his disciples’ feet, but also to dry them well. If he lets the disciples go with wet feet, soon they will attract more dirt. The washing does not have sense without the wiping. Jesus’ belt, made of towel, speaks loudly not only about his readiness to serve, but also his readiness to serve fully and responsibly.
As it is with belt, so it is with the challenge in our life. I believe that many of us are inspired to serve, to love, to give good examples, and to maintain any other good values. Problem is, we are kind of juggling between “being tied too loosely” and “being tied too tightly.” Some of us may think that the real freedom in serving others is when we can do whatever we want, in whatever way we like, and anytime we want. These people are breaking rules and accepted norms in order to serve. Some of us have our belt too tight, and hence we believe that the only way to serve others is too impose rigid rules and disciplines, to play with dos and donts.
Let us look then to our imaginary life belt. What stories have been recorded there? Which holes have we been using? Are we walking with difficulty as Jesus’ disciples, simply because we either let our life belt too loose, or we make it too tight? Today, we are invited to rewrite our story recorded in our life belt. If we can ask Saint Paul about what story to write, the answer is obvious. We heard it in our second reading. “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.” Our story is none other than the death of Jesus. The challenges in our lives to find the right hole in our life belt are like wide doors open to us to touch again that death of Jesus.
The good news for us is clear. Either our life belt is too loose, or too tight, or just right, we can always return to the Eucharist to relearn about our life story, to rewrite it, to find the right hole, or simply to be amazed by how God can indeed write a better story of our life belt. And I do hope that from now on, every time you buckle your belt each morning, you can hear again that invitation to be ready for the true freedom, to serve, and to do it fully and responsibly. God, help us! Amen.