Psalms 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Sirach’s wisdom is harsh and blunt: “when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials.” My initial reaction to this text is to blurt out, like one my children, “that’s not fair.” Why should service to God bring trials? Texts like this one are troubling and they trouble me. Not long ago, however, I was jogging through a park near my home, and I was reflecting on this very problem (theologians do that). The truth is, Sirach could have written, “when you come to live on earth, prepare yourself for trials.” Difficulties, even difficulties of the “crushing” variety described in the first reading are a given of the human condition. No one escapes from this, faithful or unfaithful.
The difference for the faithful person is the promise that God will sustain us and renew us. The beautiful line “study the generation long past and understand; has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed?” reaches deep within and fires both hope and longing. “Compassionate and merciful is the Lord.”
Receiving the wisdom of Sirach, sadly, is not easy. Most of
us find it challenging to remain “undisturbed in time of adversity.”
Perhaps we can take heart in the knowledge that the disciples in today’s
gospel had the same problem. Jesus’ prediction of the passion and
resurrection--almost a recapitulation of Sirach’s promise--is so difficult
to bear that all they can do is speculate about the course of their careers.
They worry about who was most important when, in reality, their world would
soon come crashing down around them. How petty and how human this
is? Jesus reminded them, as he now reminds us, that service and fidelity,
even in adversity, matter most to God. I hope I remember this the
next time serious trial comes my way.
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