Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent
Jeremiah 18:18ff. In his hopeless situation the prophet calls out the great prayer of hope: “Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies!”
Matthew 20:17ff. Jesus’ reply to the request for prominent places goes too often unheeded: “the greatest among you must be our servant.”
Believing in God’s Plan, No Matter What
Both biblical readings record an intrigue to get ahead! Jeremiah’s own family had already turned against him (Jer 12:6-23), and now the religious and secular authorities contrive a plot to do away with this troublesome challenger. In Matthew’s gospel “the mother of Zebedee’s sons,” James and John (see Matt 4:21), seeks to maneuver a secret promise from Jesus “that these sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and the other at your left, in your kingdom.” God’s plans are not to be advanced in the way of personal ambition or double-dealing!
Jeremiah states the initial, essential attitude for all religious work: prayer for the welfare of others. “Heed me, O Lord! . . . Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.” We seek their goodness, their peace, their life. These gifts come from the Lord and must be sought from him. Jeremiah’s apostolic activity redounded from the remembrance of the Lord and His plans and hopes for others.
The concluding verses of Jeremiah’s “confession” seem to reverse this attitude and demand revenge and pain from God upon these same people, now the prophet’s persecutors. It is important to recall, however, that these five “confessions” of Jeremiah (12:1-5; 15:10-11, 15-21; 17:14-18; 18:19-23; and 20:7-18) originally formed a separate scroll (or booklet) composed in the form of a personal diary and were never intended for public eyes. The editor of the book of Jeremiah found this diary, after completing the initial draft of his manuscript – in fact, after the prophet’s death – and inserted these profoundly personal documents where he felt they belonged historically. When Jeremiah curses his enemies, he is not necessarily proud of himself. He is simply honest and open before God, saying, as it were: “Here, God, is how I feel. Help!”
If Jeremiah turned to God in prayer for others and for himself, then he firmly believed in God’s mysterious plan for all his people. Here then is the second, essential attitude for apostolic undertaking: to seek the Lord’s will. We must believe that such a plan exists in God. The Epistle to the Ephesians calls it “God’s secret plan” (Eph 3:3, 9), “the mysterious design which for ages was hidden in God, the Creator of all”. Before his resurrection, Jesus did not know this plan thoroughly (Matt 24:36) and so he was unable to promise personal privileges to James and John. We too must not seek special status nor labour for our own benefit nor seek to fulfill ambitions. Only by being absorbed in prayer can we begin to sense intuitively a small part of “God’s secret plan.” Such prayer keeps our activity closer in touch with God’s hopes.
Personal disinterestedness is clearly enunciated by Jesus. The gospel selection begins and ends with an announcement of Jesus’ death. He “has come, not to be served by others, but to serve, to give his own life.” Conversions and other apostolic achievements are godly only when they serve to humiliate the apostle before the goodness of others and before the wonder of God.
First Reading: Jeremiah 18:18-20
Instruction shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words.”
Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.
Gospel: Matthew 20:17-28
While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentilest to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be our servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”