Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

“Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples” 
(detail) by Tintoretto, c. 1547
Reading I:  Jeremiah 18:18-20
Commentary on Jer 18:18-20
Today’s scripture comes from that part of Jeremiah referred to as “Oracles in the Days of Jehoiakim.” The good king, Josiah, has died and with him the reforms Jeremiah was supporting.  Now, in Jeremiah’s time, idolatry is creeping back in and the prophet is becoming unpopular.  We hear the forces gathering against him in this reading.  We also hear him pray to God that he might be remembered for his faithfulness
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 31:5-6, 14, 15-16
R. (17b) Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
Commentary on Ps 31:5-6, 14,15-16
Psalm 31 is a lament in the face of adversity. These strophes contain the first mention in the Psalms of “O faithful God.” The meaning put forward is that God always remembers his promise of salvation to those who believe in him. The psalmist continues, asking for protection from those who would persecute the faithful.
Commentary on Mt 20:17-28
St. Matthew’s Gospel reading gives us the third and most detailed description of the coming passion.  Emphasizing the lack of understanding of this event, the mother of James and John asks Jesus to elevate them to places of honor in his kingdom.  The Lord questions the two, asking if they can drink the cup he will drink (accept the fate of martyrdom).  When they answer in the affirmative, the Lord almost pronounces their acceptance as a sentence of death.
The squabbling that occurs between the disciples following this exchange prompts the Lord to define Christian leadership again, saying that those who would lead must be servants. They cannot be like the scribes and Pharisees.
CCC: Mt 20:19 572; Mt 20:26 2235
The common thread running through scripture today is not a happy one for those of us who claim the call to discipleship in the Lord.  First we hear one of God’s great messengers, the Prophet Jeremiah.  He is hearing of plots against him, and it is clear from his prayer that he takes them seriously. He fears for his very life.  The psalm supports the feeling that the faithful are constantly encountering fierce opposition.
Finally, in the Gospel, the passage opens with Jesus stating in clear terms that “the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death.”  Even his own disciples, who, having been schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures, would have seen this pattern in prophecy, did not understand what was about to happen.
If it happened to Jeremiah six hundred years before Christ, and it happened to Jesus as he said it would, why should it be any different for his followers?  He told Zebedee’s sons that they would follow him in death for their faith.  We don’t have to be hit over the head too many times to guess that our path, followed faithfully, will be met with significant resistance.  
Perhaps, we live in a society that is, for the most part, somewhat benign --  benign unless we get too ambitious and try to actually change the hearts of others.  If we do that outside the comforting walls of the Church we see quickly the resistance that waits for us.  The recent mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services has made it abundantly clear that even if we just try to live a life that respects human life, our faith is under attack.  Our supposedly guaranteed freedom of religion is only protected as long as it does not interfere with hedonistic secularism.
Today our prayer is that we be given the strength of spirit given to the saints. May we be examples of fearless faith to others and thereby earn some piece of the reward promised to God’s faithful servants.

[1] The picture is “Christ Washing the Feet of His Disciples” (detail) by Tintoretto, c. 1547

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