Psalms 31:5-6, 14, 15-16
In our Gospel today, the mother of Zebedee’s sons comes to ask Jesus a favor. Jesus says to her, “What is it you want?” If you and I place ourselves before Jesus today and let Him ask us, “What is it you want?” what would you say? If we are really honest about the deepest desires of our hearts, we all, in some way, long to know that we are truly loved: completely known in all of our faults and failings. Consider the scene of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan River by John. Jesus hears His Father say, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I take great delight.” This is the truth of who Jesus is: Beloved Son. And this is the truth of who we are in The Father’s sight: a beloved daughter or son.
I begin with this reflection because it roots us in our Lenten journey. Who are we? Why do we “repent and believe the Good News?” We repent of all that gets in the way of us being rooted in and acting out of the truth of who we are: beloved.
You remember the Gospel story. The mother of Zebedee’s sons wants to make sure her sons will be taken care of and honored—at the right and left hand of Jesus. The desire comes from the wonderful yearning of a mother or father to provide for and want the best for his/her children. And at the same time it comes from a misunderstanding of how that yearning can be filled.
Jesus tells his disciples, “You know how those who exercise authority among the Gentiles lord it over them; their great ones make their importance felt. It cannot be like that with you. Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the rest, and whoever wants to rank first among you, must serve the needs of all. Such is the case with the Son of Man who has come, not to be served by others but to serve, to give his own life as a ransom for the many.” (Matthew 20, 24-28)
Surely we hear so often about the need to serve others. And in the depth of our hearts we also know that this is when we are the happiest. But often it is such a struggle. We get lost in our own needs, expectations, and all that we think we have to do for ourselves and those we love. We get lost in aloneness. So, how can we, who do aspire to greatness, serve others?
St. Therese of Lisieux (The Little Flower) speaks to us so wonderfully here. She shares in her autobiography her own desires for greatness: “You know I have always wanted to be a Saint; but compared with real Saints, I know perfectly well that I am no more like them than a grain of sand…. Instead of allowing this to discourage me, I say to myself: ‘God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so, in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a Saint. I could never grow up. I must put up with myself as I am, full of imperfections, but I will find a little way to Heaven, very short and direct, an entirely new way. …That is what I must find, an elevator to take me straight up to Jesus, because I am too little to climb the steep stairway of perfection.’
So she searches Scripture for the “elevator” and finds, “Whosoever is a little one, let him come to Me.” (Prov. 9:4) She continues searching, wanting to know what He would do to a ‘little one.’ “This is what I found: ‘You shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees; as one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you.’ (Is. 66:12,13). My heart had never been moved by such tender and consoling words before! Your arms, My Jesus, are the elevator which will take me up to Heaven. There is no need for me to grow up; on the contrary, I must stay little, and become more and more so.” (The Story Of A Soul, pp140-141)
What Therese so beautifully discovers is what God does to a ‘little one’: hold, caress, and comfort. There is no need for us to grow up, for God has and will provide all that we need. It is in seeking to be little and in serving others that we lose ourselves and find Him. In both daily, ordinary sufferings and extraordinary sufferings, God is eager for us to know His care and comfort while we know the joy of being lost in serving.
Here lies our true identity—beloved sons and daughters: little ones, cared for, provided for, and too little to be able to do it on our own. We must rest in the arms of Jesus. It is when you and I jump out of His arms and “do it ourselves” that we cause ourselves pain and sadden God. Repentance. The repentance we are called into is that of true humility and service. This is not a being beaten up because we are so bad; rather it is being called to rest in the truth of our identity, beloved, little ones in the arms of our loving and tender God.
So, I invite you and myself to permit ourselves to grow in littleness
this Lent. Here we will receive the depth of God’s comfort and the
joy of losing ourselves in others. And here we can rest in the truth
of who we are: beloved!
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