02Mar Wednesday of the Eighth Week

Sir 36:1ff. By God’s fidelity to the hopes and prophetic promises of Israel, he will reveal his salvation to the ends of the earth.

Mark 10:32ff. Jesus again announces his death and resurrection.

His disciples argue over rank and privilege in his kingdom.

Reverence in God’s Household

A response of fear is present in each of today’s readings. The text from Sirach begins with a prayer that God will “put all the nations in dread of you.” The verse immediately before today’s passage from 1 Peter warns the early Christians to “conduct yourselves reverently during your sojourn in a strange land.” The gospel describes the disciples as filledwith wonderment and fear, as they travel with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

A certain kind of fear is healthy, lest we foolishly gamble away the great possibilities of human life. Fear likewise takes the form of a wise reverence before the privilege of life. It will prevent us from being selfish or egotistical for it reminds us at once how much we need to cooperate with others and to share with others, if we are to receive God’s gifts within the one large family of God.

The three readings for today guide us along the path of a healthy reverence, not to abuse or lose God’s beautiful gifts. Sirach insists on the respect we must show towards the gifts of others; 1 Peter deals with our reverence in worship and prayer before God; and the gospel helps us recognize the bond of family where we reverence others in love and share the best with them.

Sirach, absorbed in what God can do for his chosen people, prays that “the nations” will fear God and so respect God’s gifts and blessings within Israel. He lived and conducted his school during a time of peace, just before the great persecution reflected in Daniel and the books of Maccabees burst upon Israel. Yet not content with the serenity of peaceful times, he begs God not to let his people be dulled into complacency and compromise. Unlike other sapiential writers (as we see in Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes) Sirach delighted in the temple liturgy (chs 24 and 50). He asks us to respect the talents and gifts of others and to encourage them. We should delight in their triumphs and be nourished by their wholesome ambition. Liturgy ought to mirror these great triumphs of God’s grace in others. Thus God “will be known to the end of the earth.”

First Peter stresses the bond of union among all God’s people. Jew or Gentile, we were one and all redeemed by “Christ’s blood beyond all price.” The reference here recalls the blood ritual of Old Testament liturgy. The blood was always drained from the sacrificial animal (Lev 4:7) and was then sprinkled on (or towards) the altar and at times on the people. In this way the liturgy proclaimed the one bond of life between God and his people. Just as blood that flows outward from the heart unites all the bodily members in one flow of life, so too are we united this intimately with God through the precious blood of Jesus. It is Jesus’ blood that sanctifies and revitalizes each of us. The wonder of the human body stirs fear and respectful care for what God has created. With even deeper fear and wonder we should ponder the mystery of our union with Jesus in one body.

In the Gospel, although Jesus encountered opposition from the disciples, he did not back down or go in a different direction. He continued on his way to Jerusalem. Here, he said, “the Son of Man will be handed over. His captors will mock him and spit at him, flog him, and finally kill him. But three days later he will rise.” God’s promises are so exalted that before the event there is no way of understanding them. Even though Jesus’ enemies want to do away with him, lestthey lose their privileges and wealth, God will turn their political contriving against Jesus to world salvation. Even if the death of the sacrificial animal did not hold an important place in the Old Testament liturgy, still in Jesus’ case the death of the sacrificial victim becomes a central act of redemption and church liturgy. “This is my body to be given for you… my blood which will be shed for you” (Luke 22:19-20). We are again in fear, not so much of death, but of life that has been sanctified and renewed by such a death as Jesus’.

By contrast with this exalted theology of hope and life, of martyrdom and self-giving respect for others, the action of Zebedee’s sons, James and John, seems petty and even detestable. How can they intrigue for privileged places in the kingdom, seeking to outrank the other disciples, when Jesus has announced the giving of his life for everyone? Jesus’ answer was very simple, “Whoever aspires to greatness must serve the rest.” This is the mind of Jesus, the mind that must also be in us (Phil 2:5).

First Reading: Sirach 36:1, 4-5, 10-17

Have mercy upon us, O God of all,

As you have used us to show your holiness to them, so use them to show your glory to us.

Then they will know, as we have known, that there is no God but you, O Lord.

Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time, and let people recount your mighty deeds.

Let survivors be consumed in the fiery wrath, and may those who harm your people meet destruction.

Crush the heads of hostile rulers who say, “There is no one but ourselves.”

Gather all the tribes of Jacob, and give them their inheritance, as at the beginning.

Have mercy, O Lord, on the people called by your name, on Israel, whom you have named your firstborn.

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” ServiceJames and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able. Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”