27 February. Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent

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 Jer. 18:18ff. A prayer of hope from a hopeless situation: “Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies!”

Mt 20:17ff. Instead of seeking prominent places “the greatest among you must be our servant.”

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.”

Not fighting for the first place

How fiercely people will plot and intrigue to get the privileged place! 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. As Matthew tells it, it was the mother of James and John (“Zebedee’s sons,”) who asked Jesus to promise that her sons will sit, one at his right hand and the other at his left, in the coming kingdom. According to Mark it was the two brothers themselves who asked for this privilege. In either case it is clearly an unworthy seeking for special favours, promoting a personal agenda. God’s plans are not helped by way of personal ambition or double-dealing!

Nowhere is the ideal of unselfish service more powerfully stated than by Jesus on this occasion. Our gospel today begins and ends with an announcement of his death, on behalf of others. 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 the apostle humble before the goodness of others and before the wonder of God.

As this Gospel comes on the eve of the first papal resignation for six centuries, we cannot help  hoping that its message will be heard and pondered when the cardinals go into conclave in the coming weeks to select a successor to the bishop of Rome and supreme pastor of the Catholic Church.

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