La preghiera bussa, il digiuno ottiene, la misericordia riceve

Dai «Discorsi» di san Pietro Crisologo, vescovo

(Disc. 43; PL 52, 320 e 322)
La preghiera bussa, il digiuno ottiene, la misericordia riceve

    Tre sono le cose, tre, o fratelli, per cui sta salda la fede, perdura la devozione, resta la virtù: la preghiera, il digiuno, la misericordia. Ciò per cui la preghiera bussa, lo ottiene il digiuno, lo riceve la misericordia. Queste tre cose, preghiera, digiuno, misericordia, sono una cosa sola, e ricevono vita l’una dall’altra.
    Il digiuno è l’anima della preghiera e la misericordia la vita del digiuno. Nessuno le divida, perché non riescono a stare separate. Colui che ne ha solamente una o non le ha tutte e tre insieme, non ha niente. Perciò chi prega, digiuni. Chi digiuna abbia misericordia. Chi nel domandare desidera di essere esaudito, esaudisca chi gli rivolge domanda. Chi vuol trovare aperto verso di sé il cuore di Dio non chiuda il suo a chi lo supplica.
    Chi digiuna comprenda bene cosa significhi per gli altri non aver da mangiare. Ascolti chi ha fame, se vuole che Dio gradisca il suo digiuno. Abbia compassione, chi spera compassione. Chi domanda pietà, la eserciti. Chi vuole che gli sia concesso un dono, apra la sua mano agli altri. È un cattivo richiedente colui che nega agli altri quello che domanda per sé.
    O uomo, sii tu stesso per te la regola della misericordia. Il modo con cui vuoi che si usi misericordia a te, usalo tu con gli altri. La larghezza di misericordia che vuoi per te, abbila per gli altri. Offri agli altri quella stessa pronta misericordia, che desideri per te.
    Perciò preghiera, digiuno, misericordia siano per noi un’unica forza mediatrice presso Dio, siano per noi un’unica difesa, un’unica preghiera sotto tre aspetti.
    Quanto col disprezzo abbiamo perduto, conquistiamolo con il digiuno. Immoliamo le nostre anime col digiuno perché non c’è nulla di più gradito che possiamo offrire a Dio, come dimostra il profeta quando dice: «Uno spirito contrito è sacrificio a Dio, un cuore affranto e umiliato, tu, o Dio, non disprezzi» (Sal 50, 19).
    O uomo, offri a Dio la tua anima ed offri l’oblazione del digiuno, perché sia pura l’ostia, santo il sacrificio, vivente la vittima, che a te rimanga e a Dio sia data. Chi non dà questo a Dio non sarà scusato, perché non può non avere se stesso da offrire. Ma perché tutto ciò sia accetto, sia accompagnato dalla misericordia. Il digiuno non germoglia se non è innaffiato dalla misericordia. Il digiuno inaridisce, se inaridisce la misericordia. Ciò che è la pioggia per la terra, è la misericordia per il digiuno. Quantunque ingentilisca il cuore, purifichi la carne, sràdichi i vizi, semini le virtù, il digiunatore non coglie frutti se non farà scorrere fiumi di misericordia.
    O tu che digiuni, sappi che il tuo campo resterà digiuno se resterà digiuna la misericordia. Quello invece che tu avrai donato nella misericordia, ritornerà abbondantemente nel tuo granaio. Pertanto, o uomo, perché tu non abbia a perdere col voler tenere per te, elargisci agli altri e allora raccoglierai. Dà a te stesso, dando al povero, perché ciò che avrai lasciato in eredità ad un altro, tu non lo avrai.

RESPONSORIO        Cfr. Tb 12, 8. 9

 Buona cosa è la preghiera con il digiuno e l’elemosina. * L’elemosina salva dalla morte e purifica dal peccato.
 Chi fa l’elemosina, godrà lunga vita:
 l’elemosina salva dalla morte e purifica dal peccato.

“How often shall I forgive?”

Daily Reading & Meditation

 Tuesday (March 26): “How often shall I forgive?”

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 18:21-35  

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; 25 and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, `Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, `Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken  place. 32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me; 33 and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Old Testament Reading: Daniel 3:25,34-43 (Deutero-canonical book)

25 Azariah prayed:  “For your name’s sake do not give us up utterly, and do not break your covenant, and do not withdraw your mercy from us, for the sake of Abraham your beloved and for the sake of Isaac your servant and Israel your holy one, to whom you promised to make their descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the sand on the shore of the sea. For we, O Lord, have become fewer than any nation, and are brought low this day in all the world because of our sins. And at this time there is no prince, or prophet, or leader, no burnt offering, or sacrifice, or oblation, or incense, no place to make an offering before you or to find mercy.Yet with a contrite heart and a humble spirit may we be accepted, as though it were with burnt offerings of rams and bulls, and with tens of thousands of fat lambs; such may our sacrifice be in your sight this day, and may we wholly follow you, for there will be no shame for those who trust in you. And now with all our heart we follow you, we fear you and seek your face. Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your forbearance and in your abundant mercy. Deliver us in accordance with your marvelous works, and give glory to your name, O Lord!”

Meditation: Who doesn’t have debts they need to pay off! And who wouldn’t be grateful to have someone release them from their debts? But can we really expect mercy and pardon when we owe someone a great deal? When the people of Israel sinned and rebelled against God, God left them to their own devices until they repented and cried out to him for mercy. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament recounts the story of Daniel and his three young friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, who were sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. When the King of Babylon threw Daniel’s three friends into the fiery furnace, they cried out to God to have mercy not only on themselves, but to have mercy upon all his people. “Do not put us to shame, but deal with us in your forbearance and in your abundant mercy” (Daniel 3:19-43).

The prophet Jeremiah reminds us that God’s “mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). God gives grace to the humble and he shows mercy to those who turn to him for healing and pardon.

We owe God a debt we could never repay
God’s mercy towards each one of us shows us the way that God wants each one of us to be merciful towards one another. When Peter posed the question of forgiveness and showing mercy to one’s neighbor, he characteristically offered an answer he thought Jesus would be pleased with. Why not forgive your neighbor seven times! How unthinkable for Jesus to counter with the proposition that one must forgive seventy times that. Jesus made it clear that there is no reckonable limit to mercy and pardon. And he drove the lesson home with a parable about two very different kinds of debts. The first man owed an enormous sum of money – millions in our currency. In Jesus’ time this amount was greater than the total revenue of a province – more than it would cost to ransom a king! The man who was forgiven such an incredible debt could not, however bring himself to forgive his neighbor a very small debt which was about one- hundred-thousandth of his own debt. The contrast could not have been greater!

Jesus paid the price in full for our guilt and condemnation
Paul the Apostle tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). There is no way we could repay God the debt we owed him because of our sins and offenses. Only his mercy and pardon could free us from such a debt. There is no offense our neighbor can do to us that can compare with our debt to God! If God has forgiven each of us our own debt, which was very great, we, too must forgive others the debt they owe us.

Jesus ransomed us from slavery to sin and eternal death
Through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross, we have been forgiven a debt beyond all reckoning. It cost God his very own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to ransom us with the price of his blood. Jesus paid the price for us and won for us pardon for our sins and freedom from slavery to our unruly desires and sinful habits. God in his mercy offers us the grace and help of his Holy Spirit so we can love as he loves, pardon as he pardons, and treat others with the same mercy and kindness which he has shown to us. 

True peace with God
God has made his peace with us. Have you made your peace with God? If you believe and accept God’s love and and pardon for you, then you likewise must choose to be merciful towards those who are in debt to you. Are you ready to forgive and to make peace with your neighbor as God has made peace with you?

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love. Where there is injury let me sow pardon. Where there is doubt let me sow faith. Where there is despair let me give hope. Where there is darkness let me give light. Where there is sadness let me give joy.” (Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, 1181-1226)

Psalm 25:4-9

4 Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 
5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;  for you I wait all the day long. 
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 
7 Remember not the sins of my youth, or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O LORD! 
8 Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 
9 He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.

A Daily Quote for Lent: A daily remedy for our sins, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.

“Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors. Let us say this sentence with sincerity, because it is an alms in itself. Sins that oppress and bury us cannot be termed trifles! What is more minute than drops of rain? Yet they fill the rivers. What is more minute than grains of wheat? Yet they fill the barns. You note the fact that these sins are rather small, but you do not take note that there are many of them. In any case, God has given us a daily remedy for them.” (excerpt from Sermon 205,1) 

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite: copyright (c) 2019 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

Il vero timore del Signore

Dai «Trattati sui salmi» di Sant’Ilario, vescovo

(Sal 127, 1-3; CSEL 22, 628-630)
Il vero timore del Signore

    «Beato l’uomo che teme il Signore e cammina nelle sue vie» (Sal 127, 1). Ogni volta che nella Scrittura si parla del timore del Signore, bisogna tener presente che non si trova mai da solo, come se per noi bastasse alla completezza della fede, ma gli vengono aggiunti o anteposti molti altri valori.
    Da questi si comprende l’essenza e la perfezione del timor di Dio come sappiamo da quanto è detto nei Proverbi di Salomone: «Se appunto invocherai l’intelligenza e chiamerai la saggezza, se la ricercherai come l’argento e per essa scaverai come per i tesori, allora comprenderai il timore del Signore» (Pro 2, 3-5).
    Vediamo da ciò per quanti gradi si arriva al timore di Dio.
    Anzitutto, chiesto il dono della sapienza si deve affidare tutto il compito dell’approfondimento al dono dell’intelletto, con il quale ricercare e investigare la sapienza. Solo allora si potrà comprendere il timore del Signore. Certamente il modo comune di ragionare degli uomini non procede così circa il timore.
    Infatti il timore è considerato come la paura che ha l’umana debolezza quando teme di soffrire ciò che non vorrebbe gli accadesse. Tale genere di timore si desta in noi con il rimorso della colpa, di fronte al diritto del più potente, o all’attacco del più forte, a causa di una malattia, per l’incontro con una bestia feroce o, infine, per la sofferenza di qualsiasi male.
    Non è questo il timore che qui si insegna, perché esso deriva dalla debolezza naturale.
    In questa linea di timore, infatti, ciò che si deve temere non è per nulla oggetto e materia di apprendimento, poiché le cose temibili si incaricano da se stesse a incutere terrore.
    Del timore del Signore invece così sta scritto: «Venite, figli, ascoltatemi; v’insegnerò il timore del Signore» (Sal 33, 12). Dunque si impara il timore del Signore, perché viene insegnato. Questo genere di timore non sta nello spavento naturale e spontaneo, ma in una realtà che viene comunicata come una dottrina. Non promana dalla trepidazione della natura, ma lo si comincia ad apprendere con l’osservanza dei comandamenti, con le opere di una vita innocente, e con la conoscenza della verità.
    Per conto nostro il timore di Dio è tutto nell’amore, e l’amore perfetto perfeziona questo timore.
    Il compito proprio del nostro amore verso Dio è di ascoltarne gli ammonimenti, obbedire ai suoi comandamenti, fidarsi delle sue promesse.
    Ascoltiamo dunque la Scrittura che dice: «Ora, Israele, che cosa ti chiede il Signore tuo Dio, se non che tu tema il Signore tuo Dio, che tu cammini per tutte le sue vie, che tu l’ami e serva il Signore tuo Dio con tutto il cuore e con tutta l’anima, che tu osservi i comandi del Signore e le sue leggi, che oggi ti do per il tuo bene?» (Dt 10, 12).
    Molte poi sono le vie del Signore, benché egli stesso sia la via. Ma quando parla di se stesso si chiama via, dando anche la ragione per cui si chiami così: «Nessuno», dice, «viene al Padre se non per mezzo di me» (Gv 14, 6).
    Bisogna dunque porsi il problema delle molte vie possibili e ponderare molti elementi perché, edotti da molte ragioni, possiamo trovare quell’unica via della vita eterna che fa per noi.
    Vi sono infatti vie nella legge, vie nei profeti, vie nei vangeli, vie negli apostoli, vie anche nelle diverse opere dei maestri.
    Beati coloro che camminano in esse col timore di Dio.

RESPONSORIO        Cfr. Sir 2, 16; Lc 1, 50

 Quelli che temono il Signore cercano di piacergli; * coloro che lo amano si saziano della sua parola.
 Di generazione in generazione si stende la sua misericordia su quelli che lo temono;
 e coloro che lo amano si saziano della sua parola.

Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom

Daily Reading & Meditation

 Thursday (March 21): Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom

Gospel Reading:  Luke 16:19-31

19 “There was a rich man, who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, full of sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table; moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he  is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, `Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, `They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  30 And he said, `No, father Abraham; but if some one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, `If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead.'”

Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 17:5-10

5 Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come.  He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt;  who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the mind and try the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings.”

Meditation: What sustains you when trials and affliction come your way? The prophet Jeremiah tells us that whoever relies on God will not be disappointed or be in want when everything around them dries up or disappears (Jeremiah 17:7-8). God will not only be their consolation, but their inexhaustible source of hope and joy as well.

We lose what we hold on to – we gain what we give away
Jesus’ parable about the afflictions of the poor man Lazarus brings home a similar point. In this story Jesus paints a dramatic scene of contrasts – riches and poverty, heaven and hell, compassion and indifference, inclusion and exclusion. We also see an abrupt and dramatic reversal of fortune. Lazarus was not only poor, but sick and unable to fend for himself.  He was “laid” at the gates of the rich man’s house. The dogs which licked his sores probably also stole the little bread he got for himself. Dogs in the ancient world symbolized contempt. Enduring the torment of these savage dogs only added to the poor man’s miseries and sufferings. 

The rich man treated the beggar with contempt and indifference, until he found his fortunes reversed at the end of his life! In God’s economy, those who hold on possessively to what they have, lose it all in the end, while those who share generously receive back many times more than they gave away.

Do not lose hope – God rewards those who trust in him
The name Lazarus means God is my help. Despite a life of misfortune and suffering, Lazarus did not lose hope in God. His eyes were set on a treasure stored up for him in heaven. The rich man, however, could not see beyond his material wealth and possessions. He not only had every thing he needed, he selfishly spent all he had on himself. He was too absorbed in what he possessed to notice the needs of those around him. He lost sight of God and  the treasure of heaven because he was preoccupied with seeking happiness in material things. He served wealth rather than God. In the end the rich man became a beggar!

Do you know the joy and freedom of possessing God as your true and lasting treasure? Those who put their hope and security in heaven will not be disappointed (see Hebrews 6:19).

“Lord Jesus, you are my joy and my treasure. Make me rich in the things of heaven and give me a generous heart  that I may freely share with others the spiritual and material treasures you have given to me.”

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does, he prospers. 
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away. 
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 
6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

A Daily Quote for Lent: Creator of both rich and poor, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.

“God made both the rich and the poor. So the rich and the poor are born alike. You meet one another as you walk on the way together. Do not oppress or defraud anyone. One may be needy and another may have plenty. But the Lord is the maker of them both. Through the person who has, He helps the one who needs – and through the person who does not have, He tests the one who has.” (excerpt from Sermon 35, 7)

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite: copyright (c) 2019 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager

 

Per mezzo di figure Israele imparava a temere Dio, e a perseverare nel suo servizio

Dal trattato «Contro le eresie» di sant’Ireneo, vescovo

(Lib. IV, 14, 2-3; 15, 1; SC 100, 542. 548)
Per mezzo di figure Israele imparava a temere Dio, e a perseverare nel suo servizio

    Dio creò l’uomo fin dal principio allo scopo di colmarlo dei suoi doni, scelse i patriarchi per dar loro la salvezza, si preparò per tempo un popolo per insegnare a servire Dio a coloro che lo ignoravano, predispose il ministero dei profeti per educare gli uomini a portare in sé lo Spirito e a godere della comunione con Dio. Egli, che non ha bisogno di nessuno, concesse la comunione con sé a coloro che avevano bisogno di lui. Per coloro che gli erano graditi disegnò l’edificio della salvezza, come farebbe un architetto. Fece egli stesso da guida a coloro che non conoscevano la strada in Egitto. A coloro che andavano errando nel deserto diede una legge quanto mai adatta. Concesse a quelli che entrarono nella terra promessa una degna eredità. Infine in favore di coloro che si convertono al Padre, uccise il vitello grasso e donò loro la veste più bella. Così, in varie maniere, dispose il genere umano in vista della grande «sinfonia» della salvezza.
    San Giovanni nell’Apocalisse dice: E la sua «voce era simile al fragore di grandi acque» (Ap 1, 15). E veramente sono molte le acque dello Spirito di Dio, perché il Padre è ricco di infinite risorse. Il Verbo, passando attraverso queste acque offrì con liberalità la sua assistenza a coloro che gli erano sottomessi, prescrivendo a ogni creatura una legge adatta e appropriata. Così diede al popolo le leggi per costruire il tabernacolo, edificare il tempio, eleggere i leviti, come pure per i sacrifici, le offerte e le purificazioni e ogni altra cosa per il servizio del culto.
    Egli, a dire il vero, non aveva alcun bisogno di tutto questo. Da sempre fu ricolmo di ogni bene, avendo in se stesso ogni soave odore e profumo, anche prima che venisse Mosè. Ma voleva educare il popolo, portato continuamente a tornare agli idoli. Voleva disporlo, con molti interventi e sussidi, a perseverare nel servizio di Dio, richiamandolo per mezzo delle cose secondarie alle primarie, con le figure alle verità, con le cose temporali alle eterne, con quelle carnali alle spirituali e con quelle terrene alle celesti, come fu detto a Mosè: «Guarda ed eseguisci secondo il modello che ti è stato mostrato sul monte» (Es 25, 40). Infatti in quei quaranta giorni imparò a ritenere le parole di Dio, il suo stile caratteristico, le immagini spirituali e le prefigurazioni delle cose future come anche Paolo dice: «Bevevano infatti da una roccia spirituale che li accompagnava, e quella roccia era Cristo» (1 Cor 10, 4). E di nuovo accennando alle cose che sono prescritte nella legge aggiunge: «Tutte queste cose accaddero a loro come esempio, e sono state scritte per ammonimento nostro, di noi per i quali è arrivata la fine dei tempi» (1 Cor 10, 11). Per mezzo di figure, dunque, Israele imparava a temere Dio e a perseverare nel suo servizio. Perciò la legge per loro era insieme una regola di vita e una profezia delle cose future.

RESPONSORIO        Cfr. Gal 3, 24-25. 23

 La legge è per noi un pedagogo che ci ha guidato a Cristo, perché fossimo giustificati mediante la fede. * Venuta la fede, non siamo più sotto la legge.
 Prima noi eravamo rinchiusi sotto la sua custodia, in attesa della piena rivelazione:
 venuta la fede, non siamo più sotto la legge.

Can you drink Christ’s cup?

Daily Reading & Meditation

 Wednesday (March 20):  Can you drink Christ’s cup?

Gospel Reading:  Matthew 20:17-28  

17 And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, 18 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, 19 and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Command that these two sons of mine may sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over  them. 26 It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; 28 even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 18:18-20

18 Then they said, “Come, let us make plots against Jeremiah, for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not heed any of his words.” 19 Give heed to me, O LORD, and hearken to my plea. 20 Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.

Meditation: Who or what takes first place in your life? You and what you want to do with your life or God and what he desires for you? When personal goals and ambitions are at odds with God’s will, whose will prevails? The prophet Jeremiah spoke a word that was at odds with what the people wanted. The word which Jeremiah spoke was not his personal opinion but the divinely inspired word which God commanded him to speak. Jeremiah met stiff opposition and even threats to his life for speaking God’s word. Jeremiah pleaded with God when others plotted to not only silence him but to destroy him as well. Jesus also met stiff opposition from those who opposed his authority to speak and act in God’s name. Jesus prophesied that he would be rejected by the religious authorities in Jerusalem and be condemned to death by crucifixion – the most painful and humiliating death the Romans had devised for enemies who opposed their authority.

Jesus called himself the “Son of Man” (Matthew 20:17) – a prophetic title for the Messiah which came from the Book of Daniel. Daniel was given a prophetic vision of a “Son of Man” who is given great authority and power to rule over the earth on behalf of God. But if Jesus is the Messiah and “Son of Man” prophesied by Daniel, why must he be rejected and killed? Did not God promise that his Anointed One would deliver his people from their oppression and establish a kingdom of peace and justice? The prophet Isaiah had foretold that it was God’s will that the “Suffering Servant” who is “God’s Chosen One” (Isaiah 42:1) must first make atonement for sins through his suffering and death (Isaiah 53:5-12) and then be raised to establish justice on the earth (Isaiah 42:4). Jesus paid the price for our redemption with his own blood. Jesus’ life did not end with death on the cross – he triumphed over the grave when he rose victorious on the third day. If we want to share in the Lord’s victory over sin and death then we will need to follow his way of the cross by renouncing my will for his will, and my way for his way of self-sacrificing love and holiness.

Seeking greatness and power 
Right after Jesus had prophesied his impending death on the cross, the mother of James and John brought her sons before Jesus privately for a special request. She asked on their behalf for Jesus to grant them a special status among the disciples, namely to be placed in the highest position of privilege and power. Rulers placed their second-in-command at their right and left side. James and John were asking Jesus to place them above their fellow disciples.

Don’t we often do the same? We want to get ahead and get the best position where we can be served first. Jesus responds by telling James and John that they do not understand what they are really asking for. The only way one can advance in God’s kingdom is by submitting one’s whole life in faith and obedience to God. Jesus surrendered his will to the will of his Father – he willingly chose the Father’s path to glory – a path that would lead to suffering and death, redemption and new life.

When the other ten disciples heard what James and John had done, they were very resentful and angry. How unfair for James and John to seek first place for themselves. Jesus called the twelve together and showed them the true and rightful purpose for seeking power and position – to serve the good of others with love and righteousness. Authority without love, a love that is oriented towards the good of others, easily becomes self-serving and brutish.

Jesus does the unthinkable – he reverses the order and values of the world’s way of thinking. If you want to be great then become a servant for others. If you want to be first, then became a slave rather than a master. How shocking and contradictory these words must have rang in the disciples ears and in our own ears as well! Power and position are tools that can be used to serve and advance one’s own interests or to serve the interests of others. In the ancient world servants and slaves had no personal choice – they were compelled to serve the interests of their masters and do whatever they were commanded.

Freedom and servanthood 
The model of servanthood which Jesus presents to his disciples is based on personal choice and freedom – the decision to put others first in my care and concern and the freedom to serve them with love and compassion rather than with fear or desire for reward. That is why the Apostle Paul summed up Jesus’ teaching on freedom and love with the exhortation, “For freedom Christ has set us free… only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh [for indulging in sinful and selfish desires], but through love be servants of one another” (Galatians 5:1,13). Jesus, the Lord and Master, sets himself as the example. He told his disciples that he “came not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). True servanthood is neither demeaning nor oppressive because its motivating force is love rather than pride or fear.

The Lord Jesus summed up his mission by telling his disciples that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The shedding of his blood on the cross was the payment for our sins – a ransom that sets us free from slavery to wrong and hurtful desires and addictions. Jesus laid down his life for us. This death to self is the key that sets us free to offer our lives as a sacrifice of thanksgiving and love for the Lord and for the people he calls us to serve.

Can you drink my cup? 
The Lord Jesus asks each of us the same question he asked of James and John,  “Can you drink the cup that I am to drink”? The cup he had in mind was a cup of sacrificial service and death to self – even death on a cross. What kind of cup might the Lord Jesus have in mind for each one of us who are his followers? For some disciples such a cup will entail physical suffering and the painful struggle of martyrdom – the readiness to die for one’s faith in Christ. But for many followers of Jesus Christ, it entails the long routine of the Christian life, with all its daily sacrifices, disappointments, set-backs, struggles, and temptations. A disciple must be ready to lay down his or her life in martyrdom for Christ and be ready to lay it down each and every day in the little and big sacrifices required as well.

An early church father summed up Jesus’ teaching with the expression “to serve is to reign with Christ”. We share in God’s reign by laying down our lives in humble service of one another as Jesus did for our sake. Are you ready to lay down your life and to serve others as Jesus did?

“Lord Jesus, make me a servant of love for your kingdom, that I may seek to serve rather than be served. Inflame my heart with your love that I may give generously and serve others joyfully for your sake.”

Psalm 31:5-6, 14-16

5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God. 
6 You hate those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD. 
14 But I trust in you, O LORD, I say, ‘You are my God.’ 
15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors! 
16 Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love!

A Daily Quote for Lent: Do you wish to be great? by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.

“Do you wish to be great? Then begin from what is slightest. Do you plan to construct a high and mighty building? Then think first about the foundation of humility. When people plan to erect a lofty and large building, they make the foundations all the deeper. But those who lay the foundation are forced to descend into the depths.” (excerpt from Sermon 69, 2) 

Meditations may be freely reprinted for non-commercial use – please cite: copyright (c) 2019 Servants of the Word, source:  www.dailyscripture.net, author Don Schwager