Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

March 16, 2022
Theological College
Washington, D.C.

Jeremiah 18:18-20
Psalm 31:5-6, 14, 15-16
Matthew 20:17-28

Enemies, allies, and friends. This theme that very much dominates our news cycle these days. This is also a theme that our readings offer today for our reflection as we progress in our Lenten pilgrimage towards the mysteries of the Easter Triduum. Enemies, allies, and friends.

Enemies. Today we hear in our first reading that there are many enemies to Jeremiah who are working actively for his destruction. “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.” The message that the Lord has called him to deliver is one which His People are not interested in hearing because it is not preferable to the message of the court prophets of his time who are delivering a message of prosperity and the status quo. These prophets along with the priests of the court have been bought and paid for by the politically powerful. In hearing the Lord’s message from Jeremiah, the indifference of the people soon gives way to fear which is manipulated by the powerful who weaponize the people into a rage to bring down Jeremiah’s demise through lies and partial truths.

Jeremiah has suspected that this would be the case from the time that he was called by the Lord, when he expressed to the Lord his reluctance with the excuse that he was too young for this vocation. Jeremiah’s initial fears have been confirmed. Jeremiah’s answer and fidelity to the Lord’s call has brought him enemies and adversaries even out of those whom he had thought to be his friends. The heart of his prayer is for the conversion of his enemies not their destruction. “Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them.”

Allies. The mother of the sons of Zebedee requests a political favor of Jesus of influential positions for her sons in His kingdom. The question is asked based upon this fallen world’s understanding of kingship. It is an understanding in which political power and status come from inclusion among the elite and powerful — the maintenance of that exalted status also depends upon the willful exclusion of those who do not belong, who are not welcome, and who are useless to the goals of the powerful and elite.

Allies are needed for the powerful within this system to prevent the advancement of one’s enemies against one’s own interests. It bolsters a political system that utilizes power in a way that is defensive of the status quo, viewing all who are new and different with a suspicious eye. It is a system shaded by fear and leverages alliances with others through flattery, gossip, or manipulation. It is a system that takes care of the leaders first. The position of one’s place in court is protected by the strength of one’s alliances among others.

It is important to note that Jesus does not respond directly to the mother, whose voice represents the political system of entitlement and the status quo. Jesus does not offer to replace a political system with a new political system. Instead, Jesus clearly addresses His response to His chosen disciples whom He has called lovingly by name and whom He calls friends. Jesus’ response is made in the form of a direct question for discernment — “Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?” Their response is not one made in easy presumption — for it is asked of them by Jesus. They answer directly to Christ, “Yes.” Their answer is one made in the faith of His Apostles, called by name, and in direct discourse with Christ.

Enemies and allies. There were enemies of Jeremiah and his prophesy. There were and remain enemies of Jesus. To the extent that we are present here today in this seminary and are faithful to the loving and generous call that Jesus has given us to be His friends, there are enemies opposed to us and who hate us. These enemies are found outside and inside of the earthly structures of the Church. When we forget the right and central position of Christ in our lives as the Church, we are prone to ignore His rightful position as our Redeemer and Vindicator against our enemies. We then replace His mission by substituting alliances of self-interest that sacrilegiously disgrace the presbyteral order like an elite and narcissistic club. We reject His invitation to friendship.

Saint Augustine wrote about friendship: “The first thing you should observe is how the love involved in friendship ought to be gratuitous. The reason you have a friend ought not to be so he can do something for you; if that is why you love him, so that you can get some money or temporal advantage, then you are not really loving him. A friend is to be loved freely, for his own sake, not for something else. If the rule of friendship urges you to love human beings for their own sake, how much more freely is God to be loved, who calls you to love other people! There can be nothing more delightful than God.” Jesus offers us this friendship when He offers us the gift of His chalice.

Enemies and alliances are always transactional and based upon self-interests, the clashing or the alignment of self-interests. In either case, the focus remains unduly upon the “self” with the inevitable outcome being the recapitulation of the vicious cycle of sin producing chaos and disorder. Surrender to Christ and His Gospel is the only way out for us. As we prayed with the Psalmist the words appropriated by Christ Himself from the Cross, “You will free me from the snare they set for me, for you are my refuge. Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God.”

Enemies, allies, and friends. Jeremiah prophesied through his prayer that only God would save him from his enemies through God’s bringing about their conversion. Jesus Christ fulfilled that prophecy, and He is the Father’s answer to Jeremiah’s prayer. Jesus Christ established His Kingdom with the gift of Himself in the sacrificial love of His Cross. It is by this Holy Cross that He saved all of us who had become His enemies through sin. Jesus Christ offers us, His priests, His seminarians, and His friends, not an alliance but the same chalice he offered the sons of Zebedee from which He first drank: the chalice of justice for the poor, the chalice of unconditional love, the chalice of friendship, and the one chalice of His Cross.

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