Lessons from the Word

(Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31; Mt 20:17-28)


The Word of God today offers us four lessons for life, two from the Old Testament, and two from the Gospel: Forgive, trust, accept suffering like Jesus, and serve.

In the first reading, people are planning evil against Jeremiah, who has always been faithful to them in speaking God’s word. It is obvious they have betrayed him and let him down, and have been unjust towards him, and that he feels called to let it go and forgive them.

I remember resigning from the position of president of the student association as a university student because I was running away from my vocation, had no major in my third year, and didn’t know what I was doing there. I was shocked to find out the day the word got out that suddenly it was like I didn’t exist, I guess because I was no longer president. That hurt, but it also taught me an important lesson for life – that one only needs, and perhaps can only expect to have, a small number of true friends who will stand by us when we fail or fall. I had to do some forgiving, to say the least, like Jeremiah.

The psalmist offers us a simple but important message – trust in the Lord at all times, especially when trials come, others let us down, or life sends us some hard knocks.

In the gospel, Jesus first of all predicts his own passion awaiting him in Jerusalem. What is key is that he did not avoid this suffering, but rather freely accepted it and bore it without bitterness or resentment. There was only serenity, dignity, forgiveness and non-violence. And that is the key to the secret of the kingdom for us as well – to be just like Jesus and accept suffering in our lives without bitterness or resentment. Then we are already in the kingdom with him, and our suffering takes on profound purpose and meaning. Connected to his suffering, it becomes redemptive suffering for the sake of the kingdom.

When his disciples blatantly do not understand his teaching about suffering, and instead jostle for positions of power, prestige and possessions (the same false gods Jesus faced and rejected in the desert), Jesus offers them another important lesson for life. The fullness of peace, joy, purpose and meaning comes to those who do not try to get something out of others or life, but rather seek to give to others and to life, to make the world a better place. He is speaking here of servant leadership, or using one’s gifts and talents to help others in any way we can. A world leader who echoed that teaching is Winston Churchill, who famously stated “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give away.”

Archibald Hart, in his book Healing Life’s Hidden Addictions, recounts the opposite example, as a warning to us all: “Polarized narcissism is usually found in people who have suffered from early life disruption or damage and whose nurturance and dependency needs have not been met. Such people often develop a deep desire for instant gratification. They know where, when and how they want it – and they want it now! They demand instant and excessive affirmation for even small attempts at work or in relationships. The needs of others never enter the picture. They are focused only on their own needs.”

The good news is that many a parish is given life and kept humming by countless volunteers who selflessly offer of their time, talent and even treasure to serve those who come to worship, to pray, to seek counsel, to ask for material help. I am so impressed to go to Sacred Heart here in Edmonton to find a mother and daughter washing floors both downstairs and in the main church itself on a Saturday afternoon, when they could be doing do many other activities, and on top of that, doing that menial task with great love and joy. They are living today’s gospel.

The Eucharist brings together all these teachings. It is an experience of God’s steadfast, suffering love and forgiveness. It is an act of deep faith and trust in God. And it mandates us to go and live out the Eucharist through selfless service.

Updated: March 3, 2021 — 2:55 am

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