Mar 16, 2022: Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

1st Reading – Jeremiah 18:18-20

The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said,
“Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.
It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests,
nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets.
And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue;
let us carefully note his every word.”

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?
Remember that I stood before you
to speak on their behalf,
to turn away your wrath from them.

Jeremiah was called by God as a prophet in 628 BC, when the kingdom of Judah was about to collapse. He lived during the reign of the last five kings of Judah, a very eventful and tragic period.

After the death of the pious King Josiah, the people returned to their old idolatrous ways. Jeremiah opposed this with all his strength; he was rewarded for his efforts with arrest, imprisonment, and public disgrace.

The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said, “Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah.

Jeremiah has just proclaimed an oracle from Lord, in which the Israelites were condemned for their sinfulness. God called him to intercede for the people, and he has done so; but although he has sought only their good, they plot against him.

It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests, nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets.

There were many false prophets at this time, prophets that told the people what they wanted to hear and flattered them with visions of peace.

Jeremiah’s enemies did not consider him a true prophet, because his message was in opposition to these false prophets. Jeremiah was also not chosen by the Jewish leadership, which he condemned even more harshly than the people (see Jeremiah 5:31).

And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word.”

Jeremiah’s enemies seek to entrap him and use his own words against him. They intend to slander Jeremiah and ruin his name.

The words of Jeremiah’s adversaries have been interpreted as a foreshadowing of how the Jewish authorities will scheme against Jesus, seeking to arrest him.

Heed me, O LORD, and listen to what my adversaries say.

In his plight, Jeremiah immediately turns to God in prayer. He appeals to God as an impartial judge, asking him to hear both his plea and the accusations his enemies have made.

Must good be repaid with evil that they should dig a pit to take my life?

The people are not only ungrateful and slanderous; they plan to murder him.

Remember that I stood before you to speak on their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.

Jeremiah reminds God that he has only done what God has asked him to do. He has served as an intercessor with God for them, standing between them and the wrath of God which they themselves had provoked.

Despite their evil, Jeremiah has done his duty for the benefit of the people.

Psalm 31: 5-6, 14-16

R. Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.

The responsorial psalm for Good Friday is from Psalm 31, a lament with a strong emphasis on trust. It is a mixture of prayers, praises, and professions of confidence in God in the midst of great anxiety and suffering.

You will free me from the snare they set for me, for you are my refuge.

The psalmist simultaneously expresses his reliance on God and asks for help.

Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O LORD, O faithful God.

This is the first appearance of the title “faithful God” or “God of faithfulness.” It refers to the fact that God always keeps his promises and that man can take him completely at his word, to the point of the psalmist putting his life in God’s hands.

I hear the whispers of the crowd, that frighten me from every side, as they consult together against me, plotting to take my life. But my trust is in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.” In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors.

The psalmist’s distress includes danger from enemies who are plotting against him; nonetheless, he reasserts his abiding trust in God.

Gospel – Matthew 20:17-28

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem,
he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves,
and said to them on the way,
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,
and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests
and the scribes,
and they will condemn him to death,
and hand him over to the Gentiles
to be mocked and scourged and crucified,
and he will be raised on the third day.”

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons
and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
He said to her, “What do you wish?”
She answered him,
“Command that these two sons of mine sit,
one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
Jesus said in reply,
“You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”
They said to him, “We can.”
He replied,
“My chalice you will indeed drink,
but to sit at my right and at my left,
this is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
When the ten heard this,
they became indignant at the two brothers.
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.”

Today’s gospel reading includes one of Jesus’ predictions of his own suffering and death, as well as the request by their mother for James and John to have the highest places of honor in the kingdom of God.

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”

This is the third and the most detailed of the passion predictions (Matthew 16:21–23; 17:22–23). It speaks of Jesus’ being handed over to the Gentiles (Matthew 27:2), his being mocked (Matthew 27:27–30), scourged (Matthew 27:26), and crucified (Matthew 27:31, 35).

Jesus is preparing the minds of the apostles for his death and resurrection so that when the time arrives, they will remember that he prophesied his own passion and not be totally scandalized by it.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.

The sons of Zebedee are the apostles James and John. The reference indicates that Zebedee was someone known to the early church.

He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

In Matthew 19:28, Jesus said to the apostles, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

The prospect of sitting alongside Jesus as judges might have misled them into thinking in terms of an earthly messianic kingdom. Salome, the mother of James and John, thinking that this earthly reign is about to be established, asks that her sons be given the two foremost positions in it.

The reason for Matthew’s making their mother the petitioner is not clear (in Mark 10:35, James and John make the request themselves). Possibly he is making an allusion to Bathsheba’s seeking the kingdom for Solomon (1 Kings 1:11–21).

Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. 

The Greek verbs here are plural and, with the rest of the verse, indicate that the answer is addressed not to the woman but to her sons.

Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”

Christ reproaches them for not grasping the true spiritual nature of the kingdom of heaven. What makes for greatness in this kingdom is not lordly power but humble service and martyrdom.

The metaphor of drinking the cup is used in the Old Testament to refer to acceptance of the destiny assigned by God (see Psalm 11:6, 75:9). In Jesus’ case, this involves expiating God’s divine judgment on the sin of all humankind (Mark 14:24; Isaiah 53:5).

Sharing in Christ’s glory requires uniting ourselves with him in his sufferings, the endurance of tribulation for the gospel.

They said to him, “We can.”

James and John boldly reply that they can walk with Christ on his journey.

Their generous expression evokes what Saint Paul will write years later: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

He replied, “My chalice you will indeed drink,

James will be martyred in Jerusalem around the year 44 (Acts 12:2).

John, after suffering imprisonment and the lash in Jerusalem (Acts 4:3, 5:40-41), will spend a long period of exile on the island of Patmos (Revelation 1:9).

but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

The authority of assigning places of honor in the kingdom is reserved to God (Mark 10:40). Intent on doing the will of his heavenly Father, Christ will not allocate positions of authority based on human considerations (like ambition), but rather in line with God’s plans.

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.

It wasn’t just James and John who misunderstood the nature of God’s kingdom. The indignation of the rest demonstrates that they, too, wished to have places of honor and glory.

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.

Followers of Christ must not be motivated by earthly ambition. Rather, they should be interested in one thing only: to carry on the work of Christ under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

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.”

Jesus sets himself as an example to be imitated. He who is God and Judge of all men (Philippians 2:5-11, John 5:22-27, Acts 10:42, Matthew 28:18) does not impose himself on us. His way of being the first is rendering loving service to the point of giving his life for us (John 15:13).

The noun translated here as “ransom,” which occurs in the New Testament only here and in the Marcan parallel (Mark 10:45), does not necessarily express the idea of liberation by payment of some price. The cognate verb is used frequently in the Septuagint in reference to God’s liberating Israel from Egypt or from Babylonia after the Exile (see Exodus 6:6; 15:13; Psalm 77:16 (76 LXX); Isaiah 43:1; 44:22).

The fact that the liberation brought by Jesus’ death will be “for many” (Isaiah 53:12) does not mean that some are excluded, but is a Semitism designating the collectivity who benefit from the service of the one, and is equivalent to “all.”

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