Readings: Jeremiah 18:18-20; Psalm 31; Matthew 20:17-28
There is a shift in the focus of the Lectionary readings that begins today. We are two weeks from Ash Wednesday and up to now the daily Mass readings have spoken about the works of Lent, prayer, fasting and alms-giving. The readings of Ash Wednesday set the tone: return to God for this is a favourable time and give shape to your repentance by praying, fasting and giving alms. From now on though, and slowly at first, the focus shifts to Christ, and in particular to his destiny, to what is to happen to him.
So we begin to hear about Old Testament figures who, as innocent people unjustly persecuted, become types or anticipations of Christ. Today's first reading, for example, tells us about the passion of Jeremiah. In the coming weeks we will hear of others such as Susanna, and Joseph the son of Jacob, whose treatment prefigures the passion of Christ.
It reminds us of what our asceticism is for. We are to pray, fast and give alms not just to cultivate a spiritual ego instead of a worldly one. Nor are we to do these things for purely negative reasons. It is good, obviously, to avoid sin and to live a good life. But our asceticism has a further, positive, purpose. We are trying to prepare ourselves, as far as within us lies, to be friends and companions of Christ. Will we be able to stay with him in what lies ahead? Will we be ready to enter his kingdom? This is the real goal of our penances and spiritual practices, trying to be fit for the kingdom of Christ.
Which is very difficult, as today's gospel reading makes clear. The disciples, even the apostles, constantly fail to understand what that kingdom means. How could they understand immediately? It takes time - a lifetime - to understand something of the paradoxical logic of the cross. In the kingdom of Christ who is great? Who is first? Who is deserving of honour? The ones who dies to themselves in order to be more and more completely available to others, the ones in whom all ego dies and love reigns.
But we have been given another year for this, thank God, another opportunity for these Lenten works and for this kind of Lenten reflection. Perhaps this year we will come to understand the mystery of Christ's kingdom a little bit more profoundly. We may understand a little bit more clearly what it means to die with him so as to live with him.