Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Must Good Be Repaid with Evil?

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?  Jeremiah 18:19-20A

“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 20:26B-28

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  (John 8:12)  Please light our way out of competition and confusion so that we will hear your word and act on it.  

The New American Bible points out that “The request of the sons of Zebedee, made through their mother, for the highest places of honor in the kingdom, and the indignation of the other ten disciples at this request, show that neither the two brothers nor the others have understood that what makes for greatness in the kingdom is not lordly power but humble service. Jesus gives the example, and his ministry of service will reach its highest point when he gives his life for the deliverance of the human race from sin.”

Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of God? 

The way Jesus explains that answer is further proof that the Lord operates in a fashion that is the opposite of how power is judged in the world.  Matthew uses the analogy of a slave.  Anyone who was expected a messiah to ride in on a powerful horse and lead an army against the invading Romans would be sorely disappointed.  The slave analogy is parallel to the analogy Jesus uses in Mark’s Gospel when as the example of power, Jesus points to a child.  Not a soldier.  Not a King.  Not a Pharisee. 

Beyond the illustration, Jesus takes this one step further – and asks us to do as he does in service to others, not in demanding to be served by others. Everything that comes after this is the fulfillment of these words.  However, the disciples are still unaware of what the fulfillment of these words really mean.  Even as they witness the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus, they will remain confused over what this means until they finally have the realization – the epiphany – that comes with the Resurrection.

Being close to Jesus is not something to fight over or for which we can compete as James and John (the sons of Zebedee) learn.  Being close to Jesus requires actions, not words.  

In the very long treatment that The New Yorker magazine gives to the anti-nuclear movement, one of the striking images to me in the story is the demeanor of Sr. Megan Rice and her “one-ness” with nature.  She feels close to Jesus because she accepts his word and acts on it including by living (once sentenced for a Plowshares action) among the powerless in Africa and then in prison and advocating for their needs above her own.  She will not be asking to sit at Jesus’ right or left hand.  When we get to heaven, that place is probably where we will find her when she is not loving and living among the poor.  

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