Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Liturgical Year C, Cycle II

First Reading: Jeremiah 18:18-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 31:5-6, 14-16
Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28

The Glorious Mysteries

First Reading:  Jeremiah 18:18-20

A Plot against Jeremiah

18 And they said: Come, and let us invent devices against Jeremias: for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet: come, and let us strike him with the tongue, and let us give no heed to all his words.

19 Give heed to me, O Lord, and hear the voice of my adversaries.

20 Shall evil be rendered for good, because they have digged a pit for my soul? Remember that I have stood in thy sight, so speak good for them, and turn away thy indignation from them.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 31:5-6, 14-16

Prayer and Praise for Deliverance from Enemies

To the leader. A Psalm of David.

5 Thou wilt bring me out of this snare, which they have hidden for me: for thou art my protector.

6 Into thy hands I commend my spirit: thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, the God of truth.

14 For I have heard the blame of many that dwell round about. While they assembled together against me, they consulted to take away my life.

15 But I have put my trust in thee, O Lord: I said: Thou art my God.

16 My lots are in thy hands. Deliver me out of the hands of my enemies; and from them that persecute me.

Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28

A Third Time Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection

17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem, took the twelve disciples apart, and said to them:

18 Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man shall be betrayed to the chief priests and the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death.

19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked, and scourged, and crucified, and the third day he shall rise again.

The Request of the Mother of James and John

20 Then came to him the mother of the sons of Zebedee with her sons, adoring and asking something of him.

21 Who said to her: What wilt thou? She saith to him: Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left, in thy kingdom.

22 And Jesus answering, said: You know not what you ask. Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink? They say to him: We can.

23 He saith to them: My chalice indeed you shall drink; but to sit on my right or left hand, is not mine to give to you, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father.

24 And the ten hearing it, were moved with indignation against the two brethren.

25 But Jesus called them to him, and said: You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that are the greater, exercise power upon them.

26 It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister:

27 And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.

28 Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many.

"Can you drink Christ's cup?"

Who or what takes first place in your life? You and what you want to do with your life or God and what he desires for you? When personal goals and ambitions are at odds with God's will, whose will prevails? The prophet Jeremiah spoke a word that was at odds with what the people wanted. The word which Jeremiah spoke was not his personal opinion but the divinely inspired word which God commanded him to speak. Jeremiah met stiff opposition and even threats to his life for speaking God's word. Jeremiah pleaded with God when others plotted to not only silence him but to destroy him as well. Jesus also met stiff opposition from those who opposed his authority to speak and act in God's name. Jesus prophesied that he would be rejected by the religious authorities in Jerusalem and be condemned to death by crucifixion - the most painful and humiliating death the Romans had devised for enemies who opposed their authority.

Jesus called himself the "Son of Man" (Matthew 20:17) - a prophetic title for the Messiah which came from the Book of Daniel. Daniel was given a prophetic vision of a "Son of Man" who is given great authority and power to rule over the earth on behalf of God. But if Jesus is the Messiah and "Son of Man" prophesied by Daniel, why must he be rejected and killed? Did not God promise that his Anointed One would deliver his people from their oppression and establish a kingdom of peace and justice? The prophet Isaiah had foretold that it was God’s will that the "Suffering Servant" who is "God's Chosen One" (Isaiah 42:1) must first make atonement for sins through his suffering and death (Isaiah 53:5-12) and then be raised to establish justice on the earth (Isaiah 42:4). Jesus paid the price for our redemption with his own blood. Jesus' life did not end with death on the cross - he triumphed over the grave when he rose victorious on the third day. If we want to share in the Lord's victory over sin and death then we will need to follow his way of the cross by renouncing my will for his will, and my way for his way of self-sacrificing love and holiness.

Seeking privilege and power 
Right after Jesus had prophesied his impending death on the cross, the mother of James and John brought her sons before Jesus privately for a special request. She asked on their behalf for Jesus to grant them a special status among the disciples, namely to be placed in the highest position of privilege and power. Rulers placed their second-in-command at their right and left side. James and John were asking Jesus to place them above their fellow disciples.

Don't we often do the same? We want to get ahead and get the best position where we can be served first. Jesus responds by telling James and John that they do not understand what they are really asking for. The only way one can advance in God's kingdom is by submitting one's whole life in faith and obedience to God. Jesus surrendered his will to the will of his Father - he willingly chose the Father's path to glory - a path that would lead to suffering and death, redemption and new life.

When the other ten disciples heard what James and John had done, they were very resentful and angry. How unfair for James and John to seek first place for themselves. Jesus called the twelve together and showed them the true and rightful purpose for seeking power and position - to serve the good of others with love and righteousness. Authority without love, a love that is oriented towards the good of others, easily becomes self-serving and brutish.

Jesus does the unthinkable - he reverses the order and values of the world's way of thinking. If you want to be great then become a servant for others. If you want to be first, then became a slave rather than a master. How shocking and contradictory these words must have rang in the disciples ears and in our own ears as well! Power and position are tools that can be used to serve and advance one's own interests or to serve the interests of others. In the ancient world servants and slaves had no personal choice - they were compelled to serve the interests of their masters and do whatever they were commanded.

Freedom and servanthood 
The model of servanthood which Jesus presents to his disciples is based on personal choice and freedom - the decision to put others first in my care and concern and the freedom to serve them with love and compassion rather than with fear or desire for reward. That is why the Apostle Paul summed up Jesus' teaching on freedom and love with the exhortation, "For freedom Christ has set us free... only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [for indulging in sinful and selfish desires], but through love be servants of one another" (Galatians 5:1,13). Jesus, the Lord and Master, sets himself as the example. He told his disciples that he "came not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28). True servanthood is neither demeaning nor oppressive because its motivating force is love rather than pride or fear.

The Lord Jesus summed up his mission by telling his disciples that he came "to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). The shedding of his blood on the cross was the payment for our sins - a ransom that sets us free from slavery to wrong and hurtful desires and addictions. Jesus laid down his life for us. This death to self is the key that sets us free to offer our lives as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and love for the Lord and for the people he calls us to serve.

Can you drink my cup? 
The Lord Jesus asks each of us the same question he asked of James and John,  "Can you drink the cup that I am to drink"? The cup he had in mind was a cup of sacrificial service and death to self - even death on a cross. What kind of cup might the Lord Jesus have in mind for each one of us who are his followers? For some disciples such a cup will entail physical suffering and the painful struggle of martyrdom - the readiness to die for one's faith in Christ. But for many followers of Jesus Christ, it entails the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and temptations. A disciple must be ready to lay down his or her life in martyrdom for Christ and be ready to lay it down each and every day in the little and big sacrifices required as well.

An early church father summed up Jesus' teaching with the expression "to serve is to reign with Christ". We share in God’s reign by laying down our lives in humble service of one another as Jesus did for our sake. Are you ready to lay down your life and to serve others as Jesus did?

"Lord Jesus, make me a servant of love for your kingdom, that I may seek to serve rather than be served. Inflame my heart with your love that I may give generously and serve others joyfully for your sake."

Daily Reflection
Of Creighton University's Online Ministries

There are at least two very fruitful prayer settings for us to consider today. 

First, Jeremiah’s plight is to be caught up in betrayal by his adversaries.  He doesn’t understand why they would seek to harm him when he had been outspoken in pleading their case before the Lord.  Jesus moves into the final chapter of His earthly life in the story from Matthew, and reminds the disciples that betrayal, death and, mystifyingly a resurrection, will be happening soon to Him and by extension to the disciples.  But even in this extreme moment, the human power of self-interest, in the form of jealousy, arises.  

I suspect most of us have felt some betrayal in our lives, a time when a friend or acquaintance or someone upon whom we relied let us down or even tried to undercut us.  It isn’t a pleasant feeling.  And it especially hurts when those who are betraying us are among the group, or are the actual persons, we have been trying to help.  And so I invite us to pray over those feelings of loss of confidence in, and resentment toward the betrayer.  How did I feel when I realized this person I trusted had abused that trust and schemed to harm me?  How did I act when I encountered this person?  When I look back am I pleased with how I acted?  What do I wish I had done differently?  Did I try to understand why this person had betrayed me?  Was I able to “turn the other cheek” by looking beyond the betrayal and seeing the spirit of God in this person who had so harmed me?

Second, Jesus confronts the reality of jealousy among His followers.  Who will be first among equals, they want to know.  And if not me, why the other guy?  Jesus responds not by condemning jealousy, but by teaching them again about what is required to follow Him.  He does not tell them what they have done wrong, but instead reminds them of what they must do.  He continues to emphasize that we must see ourselves in the shoes, the body, the very existence of the other.  And so I invite us to pray over the times we have felt jealous.  What about those situations made us want to be like another person?  Was it the social prestige, or the privileges, or the recognition that would accompany being in their shoes that we sought?  Were we focusing on what it would be like for us personally to be exalted over our peers and to be moved into a higher rung on the ladder?  When we reflect back on the times we have been jealous of someone in a better social status, have we ever sought to be in the shoes of the other, the homeless, the alcoholic, the abused woman, the migrant, the displaced, or the refugee – the very people Jesus sought out and the ones who most needed His love?  Would it be better for us to be jealous of the freedom that many of the other feel from possessions and status and desires instead of feeling inadequate because we do not have a status or a possession that seems attractive to us?  Would being jealous of THEM instead of one of our peers help us be closer to the Lord?

The psalm is a great coda – it reminds us that our freedom from jealousies and betrayals lies in the Lord – that the power, the prophecy, and the path that comes from Jesus will lead us to a place of peace and serenity.

And so my prayer today is to turn my frustrations with betrayals to greater charity to the betrayer, and my feelings of jealousy into desire for more solidarity with those who experience the freedom to realize more fully the love of God.

by Tom Purcell
Creighton University's Accounting Department
click here for photo and information about the writer


Daily Meditation by(c) 2013 Don Schwager
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