Greatness with Jesus, Second Wednesday of Lent, March 4, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Holy Family Parish, New York, NY
Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent
Memorial of St. Casimir
March 4, 2015
Jer 18:18-20, Ps 31, Mt 20:17-28

The homily was not recorded today. The following points were pondered: 

  • Today Jesus continues to pound us with the message of conversion we pondered yesterday. Yesterday Jesus told us, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” The readings stressed that it wasn’t enough merely to stop committing sins and crimes, to “cease doing evil” but we needed to share God’s “ambition,” to “make justice [our] aim,” to “learn to do good.” And we can really only begin to do good when we’re humble enough to serve others. We can only be great and exalted in God’s kingdom when we lower ourselves with Jesus to wash others’ feet, to love them, to give our lives to and for them.
  • For many of us, our ambitions need to be converted. God doesn’t seek to eliminate all ambition. He wants us to be desirous of great things, but he does want to revolutionize what great things we seek. There’s a pacific ocean between ambition for self-aggrandizement, which is the typical ambition in the world, and ambition for souls, between seeking to glorify one’s name and establish one’s Kingdom versus trying to hallow God’s name and enter and establish his kingdom. Today in the readings Jesus seeks to transform make holy the ambition not just of James and John and their mother, not just of the apostles, but all of us.
  • There’s a poignant contrast St. Matthew presents in today’s Gospel. As soon as Jesus gives the third prediction of his upcoming betrayal, condemnation, mockery, scourging and crucifixion, rather than consoling him, the apostles and their family members show their spiritually worldly ambitions. In fact, every time Jesus predicted his passion it seemed to bring out the worst, rather than the best, in his followers. We remember the first time he announced it, Peter, thinking not as God does but as human beings do and playing the part of Satan, “rebuked” him, saying “no such thing should ever happen to you.” It would be as if you told your best friends that you had just been told by your doctor that you had two weeks to live and your friends, instead of consoling you and showing concern, began in your presence to ask about who would get what after you died. That’s what happens today. The mother of James and John approached Jesus with her sons — because they were too afraid to ask on their own it seems — and asked that they sit on his right and his left as his two chief advisors when he entered into what they believed would be his earthly kingdom. Little did she know that those thrones would be occupied by two thieves on Calvary. When the other ten apostles heard about this, St. Matthew recalls, “they became indignant at the two brothers,” not of course because they found such behavior contrary to genuine love rather than using of Jesus but because they likewise coveted those two seats.
  • Jesus took advantage of the ugliness of the raw earthly ambition to instruct them about the holy ambition he wants them to have. He asked, “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” That chalice was the cup Jesus would pray that the Father take away from him in the Garden, the cup of suffering announcement by the prophets. He was asking whether they could share in his suffering and the zeal that led him to suffer for others’ salvation. He was inviting them to share his own desires and enter truly into his kingdom. John and James replied, “We can!,” and Jesus told them they would. He then made a larger point about the ambition he wanted them and us to have, contrasting Jesus’ ambition with those of worldly kinds and sycophantic courtiers: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
    But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Ambition for greatness in Jesus’ kingdom will be shown not by positions of authority but by practices of service and ultimately by giving our whole life to ransom others from slavery to sin and death. Today, Jesus asks all of us whether we’re willing to drink that chalice?
  • Such a request, we have to admit, goes against our hopes and plans for a comfy life. Fair enough. God didn’t create us with a desire to suffer, but after the fall our love for others would be shown by our capacity to suffer and die for them, since, as Jesus would say during the Last Supper, no one has greater love than to die for others. It was a struggle likewise for the Prophet Jeremiah. After recounting to the Lord how others were contriving plots against him to destroy him, he turned to God and complained, “Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life? Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.” He had done good and was suffering as a result and that fundamental unfairness scandalized him. He did not realize at that point because of his youth that the suffering he would eventually willingly endure, that loving service of those who were plotting to kill him, that humility and enslavement to God’s saving will, would lead to his eternal exaltation. He was able to drink the chalice of suffering in anticipation of Jesus’ drinking it to the dregs, but he at first shied away.
  • Jeremiah’s conversion is a sign of hope for our own. We, too, resist the Lenten call that Jesus forcefully makes for us to deny ourselves, pick up our Cross — of suffering and self-death! — and follow him all the way up the Way of the Cross to Calvary and glory. That cross for us, accordingly to worldly standards, often takes the form of humiliation and pain, but it’s through the willingness to suffer anything and everything to serve God and help him save others that we grow to be conformed to Christ in everything. That needs to be every Christian’s deepest ambition. Jesus wants us all — like St. Casimir, whose feast the Church celebrates today — to be great in his kingdom and today he teaches us how. As we prepare to become one with him in Holy Communion, as we prepare to drink from the chalice of his Precious Blood, let us ask him to conform ourselves to his ambitions for us so that we may imitate him in becoming the servant of the rest and give our lives, with His, as a ransom for as many as we can.

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 Jer 18:18-20

The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said,
“Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.
It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests,
nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets.
And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue;
let us carefully note his every word.”Heed me, O LORD,
and listen to what my adversaries say.
Must good be repaid with evil
that they should dig a pit to take my life?
Remember that I stood before you
to speak in their behalf,
to turn away your wrath from them.

Responsorial Psalm PS 31:5-6, 14, 15-16

R. (17b) Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
You will free me from the snare they set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commend my spirit;
you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.
R. Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
I hear the whispers of the crowd, that frighten me from every side,
as they consult together against me, plotting to take my life.
R. Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
But my trust is in you, O LORD;
I say, “You are my God.”
In your hands is my destiny; rescue me
from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.
R. Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.

Verse Before the Gospel Jn 8:12

I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.

Gospel Mt 20:17-28

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“Behold, 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,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied,
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
But Jesus summoned them and said,
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,
and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 19 S Croce Lateran 1052