March 15, 2017
Wednesday, Lent Week Two
The Responsorial (Psalm 31) prays with confidence:
“Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love!”
Jeremiah 18: 18-20 affirms a truth of human life as shocking as it is sad. Truth arouses criticism. Good incites to evil. “Must good be repaid with evil, that they would dig a pit for my life?” You can’t love people enough to stop them from hating you. Jeremiah couldn’t. “Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf.” Jesus couldn’t. And no one who works for renewal in the Church can. Accept it.
But we can count on God: “Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love!”
In Matthew 20: 17-28 Jesus leads us onto dangerous ground. We are Catholics. We have great respect for official religion teachers and for priests. We do, we should and we must. But Jesus pointed out that his greatest enemies were the “chief priests and scribes.” Add the strictest observers of the Law, the Pharisees. These are the three groups we would most expect to welcome him. Instead, they sought to “condemn him to death.”
Not once do the Gospels mention the “chief priests” as being in favor of Jesus. They are named as the enemy 54 times. The “elders,” which is the correct word for those we call “priests” (from “presbyter”) today, are mentioned 24 times as enemies and once as envoys of a rich benefactor. An individual scribe or Pharisee might be good, like Nicodemus, but as a group, out of 54 reports of interaction with Jesus, they are the enemy all but once, when Luke reports that “some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.’” Should this make us anticlerical?
No. It should make us shun power for ourselves and mistrust it in others. We should be on guard against all those in positions of authority who, like “those in authority among the Gentiles,” want to “lord it” over people and “make their importance felt.” They are around. Given human nature and the pretentious protocols we have imposed on them and come to take for granted in the Church, it is a wonder there aren’t more.
Jesus was radical about shunning prestige and power. And insistent. “Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest. Whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.”
To help them remember this, the popes have taken the title servus servorum Dei: “servant of the servants of God.” But we made it hard for them to remember it by insisting on crowning them with a triple crown (which Paul VI stopped wearing and sold) and carrying them through the streets in a sedan chair (which John Paul II discontinued). People still call the pope “Your holiness” and bow or kneel before him. But change is in the air. And the air is the Spirit of God. Every identified abuse is the first blossom of reform. Whatever we see wrong, enlightened by the word of God, our response will always be, “Save me, O Lord, in your steadfast love!”
Initiative: Never read the Scriptures without active faith, hope and love.