Love is present to where the beloved is centered
Love moves to where the beloved is most present to her-or-himself. “How are you,” really is asking, “Where are you?” If I love you I will want to know how your hurting knee is or how did the exam go today. Our dog never asks how my day has been, but I know he is centered around the circumference of his food dish. My affection for the dog attends to his truth.
St. Augustine reflects that God is more intimate, or present to us, than we are to ourselves. If we believe that God is love and that this is the most basic truth of God, then we hold that God’s love is where I am most humanly me. To pray is to be attentive to where God is already present. We do not have to ask God to be near or aware. We have to ask ourselves to be more present and real where God’s love is already meeting, embracing and enlivening us.
For every suffering or calamity, or tragedy, we look for - demand - reasons and causes. When there is a plane crash there is a big search for the Flight Recorder contained within the “Black Box”. Somehow we feel better when we know the roots and causes of the tragic things so that we will be comforted by the prospect of how things will turn out. Mechanical malfunctions are easier to forgive rather than human fragility or mental disturbance. Recently and always, we read in the news of young people who shoot and kill people in a movie house, school classrooms, places of prayer and clothing stores. We eventually find out the killers were sick, angry, rejected or lonely. These are some kind of explanations and causes, but the sufferings of the families remain, and the victims are dead.
It is not exactly a tragedy when one person’s injury or fault leads him/her to cause their own personal disturbance or destruction. The tragedy is really when, through that fault, others are destroyed. It is within this context that we read the First Reading for this weekend’s liturgy. The reading is brief and is taken from the larger “Suffering Servant Song” of the prophet Isaiah which is the usual reading for Palm Sunday. This “Servant” will suffer for being God’s servant. It will appear that God decided to “crush” and punish this particular person. There must be a reason!
There are several interpretations of just who this “servant” might be. It could be Israel itself, punished in exile for its infidelities. It could be the prophet Isaiah himself who has to suffer the punishments of being a prophet of hope within the exiled people of Israel. It could be a symbolic person whom the prophet projects will bring about peace and restoration. What is important here is that the prophet is finding a cause for the suffering and that cause is God. God has punished, or crushed, this servant, but the good results will be a hope for the people. There will be “descendents in a long life”. There will be light of fullness, many will be justified, and the guilt of the people he will take away.
This continues the hopeful songs, reflections and prophesies of these fifteen chapters. The book of Consolation within the larger Book of Isaiah, is set as a call to the people of Israel to have hope in their God and in their future return to the Land of Promise. There is a reason for their exile, they know that very well. There is now, because of the suffering of the Servant, a reason to hope.
The Gospel today is a perfect picture of the collision between two forces, the perfectly human and the perfectly Jesus. James and John ask for a favor and it is a good one. Jesus responds with a loaded question of His own. It is loaded, because He is asking whether they know really what is good for them. They are asking to be up in the owner’s box when the “kingdom” comes marching in.
The Roman kingdom or empire is always the prevailing setting for the listeners of Jesus. Roman domination is all they have ever known. Jesus talks of a new kingdom, but His listeners slowly are learning that their concepts of kingdom are changing. So James and John come out of their historical context and their human self-centeredness. There is a “learning-readiness” setting now.
The Greek word, baptizein (emphasis on the second syllable) means “immersion” or “sinking into.” The “cup” which will be offered to drink by Jesus will be offered to His closest followers and He asks if they can allow themselves to drink the cup and be immersed. The two affirm that they can. Jesus then affirms that they will for sure enter into the deepest experience of Jesus’ life, His death.
The Gospel reading for today ends with quite a self-defining statement. Jesus is living among His followers and within the world as “Servant”. He is inviting them all to see His life and theirs as the heart of the “Kingdom”. The Romans enslave with power, Jesus as servant offers the power of self-sacrifice as their participation in His identity. Can they drink that, take it in and sink into this kind of living?
Jesus is meeting His human family where they are and serving them what is good for them. The empire of Rome is a large section of our human territory. Much of our suffering occurs when that personal empire collides with our weaker desires for God’s kingdom to come and replace our own. All sufferings cannot be explained so easily. We are invited to drink and sink into the powerful and gentle arms of the Servant, serving us toward what is ultimately good for us.
Did someone say that following Jesus is easy?
“See how the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His love, that He may rescue them from death and feed them in time of famine.” Ps. 33, 18-19
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