Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5, 6, 14-16; Mt 20:17-28: Psalm 31 is the prayer of Jeremiah and the prayer of Jesus, and it should be our prayer. When was the last time you prayed, “in your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors”? Seldom do we even realize that we have real enemies. Seldom do we even pay attention to our real persecutors. Indeed, the evil one is our real enemy, and the vices we have so carefully cultivated are our real persecutors. Only the LORD God can free us from the snare they set. He alone is our refuge. Into his hands we commend our spirit each night in compline; we entrust our very lives to the Faithful God. Sometimes we overhear what the prophet Jeremiah overheard, “the whispers of the crowd” that frighten and plot against us. Like the prophets of old and the fulfillment of all prophesy we must be honest about the dangers we face of temptation from the whispers of the tempter and from the plotting of those who hate the church and anyone involved with it. Only those who have no real allegiance have no enemies. We have given ourselves over to Christ the King and to the coming of His Kingdom, and because of this, we have plenty of enemies. Jeremiah teaches us in the first reading how to pray through such encounters. The Lord Jesus invites us to embrace the cross we carry. Escaping our enemies and embracing our vocation is not possible without profound prayer. This is the kind of prayer we learn about all through Lent.
This reading from Jeremiah reveals the great irony of those who suffer injustice and are persecuted for the sake of The Word of The LORD. In faithfulness to his vocation as a prophet, Jeremiah stood time and again before the LORD pleading for mercy. When the faithless yet precious people of Judah and Jerusalem deserved the wrath of God, Jeremiah stood before the just anger of God and begged forgiveness. We, too, have been summoned to such a place in the breach. We, too, are to intercede with God for his mercy upon our enemies and those who hate us. The reading also uncovers some very painful attitudes of those for whom Jeremiah had prayed and those to whom he proclaimed the Word. They were quite certain that the death of one more prophet would not diminish there national strength or personal integrity. After all, they still had the false prophets who spoke a word that tickled their hearts and made them feel good. After all, there are still plenty of priests to offer the sacrifices of our hands even if our hearts are not at all involved. So they thought, and they were wrong, dead wrong. History repeats itself in the persecution that the Lord Jesus would encounter. History still repeats itself in the lives of many followers of the Lord who are like Jeremiah in our time, who speak the Word of the LORD even when no one wants to hear it. The painful prayer of Jeremiah may be ours one day, “ Must good be repaid with the evil that they should dig a pit to take my life?” On just such a day we are called to rejoice and be glad, for the Kingdom of Heaven is ours.
It’s only the second week in Lent, and we are already hearing the third passion prediction in Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Perhaps the liturgy wants us to spend ample time meditating on the deep personal spiritual and psychological suffering that the Lord Jesus had to endure in offering to the Father his passionate sacrifice. With plenty of time before Holy Week, we have here something of the disciples’ experience. On the way to Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus gives his followers a glimpse of the suffering and the danger just ahead, but this is not the only glimpse the disciples get in this journey to Jerusalem. The Lord lets all of them see just how worldly wise their expectations are. Just after the Lord expresses so clearly his future suffering the mother of the sons of Zebedee asks that her two sons have a place on either side of the New King in the capital city. Perhaps she had a sense that this passion prediction was merely a prelude to his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Little did she know, so very little! Such motherly enthusiasm is not ridiculed or punished, rather the Lord Jesus invites her sons and all the other disciples to consider their own futures. If you are to follow me into the New and Eternal Jerusalem, you must drink from the chalice. This chalice is nothing less than a share in the suffering of the New Passover in the Blood of the Lamb. This is our invitation and destiny with all who follow the Lord Jesus. We, too, must serve and not be served. We, too, must prefer suffering and death to adulation and admiration. This we can do only because the Lord Jesus has done it already. When we drink of his chalice we experience inebriation in the Holy Spirit and we find joy in our suffering, true delight in our union with the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.