Intention: For a spirit of compassion and generosity among all who are able to share what they have with others, especially with those who are most in need.
Today’s 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.”
A Lenten Reflection
When pondering Jesus’ requirements for discipleship, it is rare to find any that do not somehow refer to serving others. His teachings unfailingly link love of God with love of neighbor, and love of neighbor with attentiveness to their needs. While this call might at first seem simply about having a spirit of everyday generosity, the Gospels also take us to places in Jesus’ life where everyday generosity meets the reality of brutal injustice. At that point, the stakes rise considerably.
In much of modern affluent society, service is defined as charity. While charitable giving accomplishes much good, it also has its limitations. It is designed to provide comfort to those in need, but not necessarily to undo the injustices that create their need. This can teach us to respond to those in pain out of sympathy rather than with empathy. In practice, sympathy leans toward an emotive reaction to the plight of others. We feel badly for them, but never really have to ever consider them as other than “them”. Empathy, on the other hand, signals compassion. We know that the suffering are not “them”, but are us. We move to them to affirm the transcendent bond of our dignity to theirs. In this movement, service is transformed from an opportunity to be randomly generous toward others to the commitment to stand in resolute solidarity with others.
Author Rachel Naomi Remen writes, “When we serve, we see the unborn wholeness in others; we collaborate with it and strengthen it. Others may then be able to see their wholeness for themselves for the first time.” The time of Lent is an opportunity to reflect on our own experience of serving others. Our Gospel tradition is that to serve is to relate cum passio, to be one with others in their struggle to find their silenced voices, stolen dignity, lost freedom. Just as Jesus came to be a healing presence within the woundedness of the world, we are sent in his name to do the same.
Eternal Father, on this day we ask that you bless us with a true spirit of service. Open our minds and hearts to the brokenness and suffering of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May we never be hardened to their cries or to your call to answer them. Fill us with your spirit and the zeal to be the face of your compassion to others. We ask this of you who lives and reigns with your Son and the Holy Spirit, one god forever and ever. Amen.