Wednesday, March 15, 2017

But to Serve

Art Laffin helps Bishop Gumbleton celebrate
Mass for the 30th anniversary of the Dorothy Day
Catholic Worker House and its service to the poor.

Pay attention to 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. Jeremiah 18:19-20

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 20:25-28

Because of his anguish, he shall see the light;
because of his knowledge, he shall be content;
My servant, the just one, shall justify the many,
their iniquity he shall bear.
Therefore, I will give him his portion among the many,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because he surrendered himself to death,
was counted among the transgressors,
Bore the sins of many,
and interceded for the transgressors. Isaiah 53:11-12

The prophets do not seem to be very successful…yet we study them anyway. Jeremiah preached and preached but to no avail. The people turned against him and tried to convict him with his very words. (“Let us destroy him by his own tongue.”)

When Jeremiah realized this, he turned to the Lord and asked for help in defeating his adversary. In essence, he was saying, “Save me, Lord, he implores. Remember, I went before them to get them to return to you?”

This prayer of vengeance follows a vision Jeremiah has of a potter at his wheel molding clay. When the clay turns out well, it is set aside and saved. When it turns out badly, it is crushed and the potter starts over again. “Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done? — oracle of the LORD. Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, house of Israel. (Jeremiah 18:6) The Lord is the potter in Jeremiah’s vision. The prophet has a role in helping the “clay.”

The mistake made by Jeremiah – and again by James and John in the Gospel -- is in viewing their work through the same lens as some other sort of leader – religious, secular, military or otherwise. Even the disciples think that Jesus can reward their devotion with honoraria. James and John plead with Jesus just as Jeremiah pleads with the Lord for a reward for their service. Their reward will be the cup of death. Yet the “ransom” that will come will be the liberation from sin brought by Jesus’ death. It will not be the liberation from the oppression of the Roman army or the oppression of the rules of the Pharisees.

The request 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. Service matters. 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.

We know who gets to be on Jesus’ right and left – the two thieves who are crucified with him on Good Friday. But Jesus spares the mother of James and John the full answer.

Service matters. Such a sacrifice is what is envisioned in the Servant Songs of the Prophet Isaiah. Such will be the outcome of the Lenten Journey which again and again takes us to the same place…the foot of the cross where Jesus “bore the punishment that makes us whole.”

What makes for greatness? Only service matters. Maybe we have to change our perspective. Jeremiah was saying “Pay attention to me.” But Jesus is saying, “NO! Pay attention to me.”

Jesus thinks for a moment to let the cup of death pass him by. However, he accepts it and drinks it. Jesus could have submitted to the temptation and brought down a host of angels on his attackers. He did not. It is not about the vengeance of one in power – even if you have the ear of the creator. It is about what we ask when we know we have his undivided attention. When we have his attention, think about service first. 

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