Thursday, March 4, 2010

Lenten Thoughts, continued

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.” (MATTHEW 20:17-28)

This Gospel reading from the Lectionary for yesterday offers us a glimpse of human nature and it is not very pretty, is it? Not only does it portray an all too human mother’s grasping ambition, it also displays the angry disciples -- later to become our Apostles -- presumably expressing hostility for not first thinking of the request themselves.



How this must have wearied Jesus -- having to carry the weight of the Kingdom and the weight of these block-heads. Which lets us know things are pretty much the same now as then. What James and John and the rest of the gang needed to hear, and by extension what we now need to hear, is that to follow Jesus is not, at least not at first, a trip to glory and honor and power, but instead a trip to Jerusalem, where: "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."



Then, and only then, after the blood mess and misery of dereliction, will the Son of Man, “be raised on the third day”...



No wonder the Savior declares: “You do not know what you are asking,” which means we must hear anew the poignant and gritty question Jesus asks: “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” This question means to test them, to test their resolve, to test their mettle. It's also meant as a warning, I think, of what they will soon face themselves, for they too will soon drink from this same cup of suffering. Said another way, suffering is the way of discipleship.




Thomas Merton reminds us in his classic study on suffering from, No Man Is An Island:


“The saint is not one who accepts suffering because he likes it, and confesses this preference before God and men in order to win a great reward. He is one who may well hate suffering as much as anyone else, but who so loves Christ, Whom he does not see, that he will allow His love to be proved by any suffering. And he does this not because he thinks it is an achievement, but because the charity of Christ in his heart demands it be done.”



Have we counted the cost of following the Christ? Have we laid all on the altar of sacrifice? Now, that is a good Lenten question.