Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Commit your life to the LORD, and he will sustain you.

“What advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a priest?” It was a young man, in his early twenties, who asked the question. But, young women thinking about entering the convent, young people who are thinking about getting married and those who are considering single life in the world ask basically the same question: “What advice do you have for someone who wants to serve the LORD?” In today’s first reading, Sirach, the writer of Ecclesiasticus, gives advice that fits all of these situations, not only for young folks, but for anyone.

If you aspire to be a servant of the LORD, prepare yourself for testing. Set a straight course, be resolute, and keep your bearings when disaster strikes. Hold fast to the LORD, never desert him. Bear the hardships that are sent to you; be patient when humiliated, no matter the cost. Gold is assayed by fire, and the LORD proves his servants in the furnace of humiliation. Trust him and he will support you. Steer a straight course, and set your hopes on him.

You who fear the LORD, wait for his mercy; do not turn away or you will fall. Trust him, and you will not lose your reward. Expect prosperity, lasting joy and mercy. Consider the generations who have gone before, and understand. Has anyone ever hoped in the LORD been disappointed? Has anyone who persevered in keeping his commandments been forsaken? Has anyone been neglected who prayed to him? The LORD is compassionate and merciful. He forgives sins; he comes to the rescue in time of trouble. He safeguards everyone who seeks him in truth.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples were traveling in Galilee. He did not want anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples, telling them, “The Son of Man is about to be handed over to men who will kill him, and three days later, he will rise again.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, but were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum, and once inside the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” They were silent, for they had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the Twelve together, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all, and servant of all.” Then he took a little child into his arms, and said to them, “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not only me, but the One who sent me.”

Every time Jesus spoke about his passion and death, his disciples were unable to understand what he was saying about himself, nor could they fathom the implications for themselves as his followers. We are a lot like them. We draw back at the mention of suffering, just as the disciples did, but Jesus insisted that it was necessary for him to suffer and die.

Jesus spoke about his death, and then he asked the disciples, “What were you talking about?” They didn’t answer, because their discussion was about which of them was going to be the greatest, after he was no longer among them.

Jesus sat with them and explained patiently. “Whoever wants to be first must be last, and servant of all.” There are some translations that say, “… must make himself last, and servant of all.” Reading this gospel, I can understand how difficult it must have been for the disciples to understand what Jesus was telling them. It’s easier for us, as we know how the story ends. I wonder how I would have reacted if I had been there. Would I have understood that this rabbi, this worker of wonders, was truly God? Obviously, we look at this gospel with hindsight, knowing what is going to happen during the Lenten season that starts tomorrow. But the slowness of the Apostle’s response – and their misplaced ambition –ought to give us pause. How can I, during the Lenten journey, put into practice the lessons in today’s readings?

Commit your life to the LORD, and he will sustain you.

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