MARCH 10, 2004, WEDNESDAY OF 2ND WEEK OF LENT: HOMILY- MATTHEW 20: 17-28
THE SON OF MAN HAS COME NOT TO BE SERVED BY OTHERS BUT TO SERVE, AND TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR THE MANY. Todayís Gospel text presents what is surely one of the more significant teachings of his public ministry. Matthew joins both Mark and Luke in recounting that Jesus predicted he was to be tortured and put to death by the civil rulers at the instigation of the religious authorities of his own people. Matthew already found in Markís account the theological meaning of that event. He makes this point in the context of a request by the mother of the two sons of Zebedee. Our Lord uses that occasion to make a strong case for renouncing selfish ambition and dedicating oneself to humble service. He makes it clear that this is the only way to imitate him and so to obtain a place with the Father. Having stated the matter so strikingly, he dealt quite fully with the request put to him by the energetic if misguided ambitious mother of two of his favorite disciples. Perhaps that was the end of that episode at the time.
Matthew seems to have felt that this teaching on humble service was of such great moment that it pointed to the very meaning of Jesusí life and death. He saw that the whole life of Christ was a selfless service and the death he had experienced, far from being an incomprehensible disaster, was the fulfillment of a preordained plan. If the Father was to distribute places of honor to those who accepted Christ and his message, they first had to be made acceptable to him by the only Son. Jesus not only came to serve but also TO GIVE HIS LIFE AS A RANSOM FOR THE MANY.
Prior to being included in the Gospel itself the content of this Gospel passage, together with some verses in Markís tenth chapter, originally formed part of the catechetical instruction used by the primitive Church. It is best understood then in that context where the Lordís teaching on the moral life of his followers was set forth as a larger block of teaching. The three subjects dealing with morality there taken up, chastity (in connection with marriage), poverty and humility were further developed and became, in the course of time, central to the ascetical practices that were to be so prominent in the spiritual life of Christians. While monks and those with religious vows take these teachings as the basis of their lives, all of Christís followers are here taught to live according to these values, adapting them to their particular calling in life. I
In setting forth this doctrine on self-denial and humility and connecting it with his coming passion and death Jesus interprets its significance afresh. It is integral with his redeeming sacrifice on behalf of others. In associating humility with his redeeming work, our Lord indicates that by living in keeping with his word, we share in the fruits of his redeeming sacrifice. More; as St. Paul put it, we fill up in our bodies what is lacking to the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his Church. To live faithful to Jesusí teaching on chastity, the use of material goods and humility in keeping with our call as monks or as Christians in the world, is to take up our cross daily and so to share in the redemption effected by Christ. May the Eucharist we now offer and the communion of this altar obtain for each of us the grace of such fidelity today and all the days of our life.U
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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