Lectio Divina: Matthew 20:17-28
Season of Lent
1) Opening prayer
Lord our God,
your prophets remind us
in season and out of season
of our responsibilities toward You
and toward the world of people.
When they disturb and upset us,
let it be a holy disturbance
that makes us restless, eager to do Your will
and to bring justice and love around us.
We ask You this through Christ our Lord.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 20:17-28
As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and He will be raised on the third day." Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached Jesus with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something. He said to her, "What do you wish?" She answered him, "Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus said in reply, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?" They said to him, "We can." He replied, "My chalice you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left, this is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus summoned them and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."
Today s Gospel presents three points: the third announcement of the Passion (Mt 20:17-19), the petition of the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Mt 20:20-23) and the discussion of the disciples regarding the first place among them (Mt 20:24-28).
Matthew 20:17-19: The third announcement of the Passion. Going toward Jerusalem, Jesus walks in front of them. He knows that He is going to be killed. The Prophet Isaiah had already announced it (Is 50:4-6; 53:1-10). His death is not the fruit of a plan established in advance, but the consequence of the commitment taken concerning the mission received from the Father, to be at the side of the excluded of His time. This is why Jesus speaks to the disciples about the tortures and death that He will have to face in Jerusalem. The disciple should follow the Master, even if He has to suffer like He. The disciples are frightened and accompany Him with fear. They do not understand what is happening (cfr. Lk 18:34). Suffering did not correspond to the idea that they had of the Messiah (cfr. Mt 16:21-23).
Matthew 20:20-21: The petition of the mother to obtain the first place for her sons. The disciples do not only not understand the importance and significance of the message of Jesus, but they continue with their own personal ambitions. When Jesus insists on service and the gift of oneself, they continue to ask for the first places in the Kingdom. The mother of James and John, taking her sons with her, gets close to Jesus . The two did not understand the proposal of Jesus. They were concerned only about their own interests. This is a sign that the ideology of that time had profoundly penetrated the mentality of the disciples. In spite of the fact of having lived with Jesus several years, they had not renewed their way of seeing things. They looked at Jesus as always, with the same look. They wanted a reward for following Jesus. The same tensions existed in the communities of the time of Matthew and they still exist today in our own communities.
Matthew 20-22-23: Jesus’ answer. Jesus reacts firmly: You do not know what you are asking for! And He asks if they are capable of drinking the chalice that he, Jesus, will drink and if they are ready to receive the baptism which He will receive. It is the chalice of suffering, the baptism of blood! Jesus wants to know if they, instead of the places of honor, accept to give their life up to death. Both answer: We can! It seems to be a response not given from within, because a few days later, they abandoned Jesus and left Him alone at the hour of suffering (Mk 14:50). They do not have a great critical knowledge, they do not perceive their personal reality. In what concerns the first place, the place of honor, in the Kingdom at the side of Jesus, the one who grants this is the Father. What he, Jesus, has to offer, is the chalice and the baptism, suffering and the cross.
Matthew 20:24-27: It should not be like that among you: Jesus speaks once again, on the exercise of power (cfr. Mk 9:33-35). At that time those who held power did not give an account to people. They acted as they wished (cfr. Mk 6:27-28). The Roman Empire controlled the world and maintained it with the force of the arms. Through tributes, taxes, it succeeded in concentrating the riches of the people in the hands of a few in Rome. Society was characterized by the repressive and abusive exercise of power. Jesus had an altogether different proposal. He said: It should not be like that among you; the one who wants to become great among you should become a servant, and the one who wants to be the first one among you will become your slave! He teaches against privileges and rivalry. He wants to change the system and insists on that service as the remedy against personal ambition.
Matthew 20:28: The summary of the life of Jesus. Jesus defines His mission and His life: I have not come to be served but to serve! He has come to give His own life for the salvation of many. He is the Messiah Servant, announced by the Prophet Isaiah (cfr. Is 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 50:4-9); 52:13-53:12). He learned from His Mother who said: Behold, the handmaid of the Lord! (Lk 1:38). A totally new proposal for the society of that time.
4) Personal questions
James and John ask for a favor and Jesus promises suffering. What do I ask Jesus for in my prayer? How do I accept suffering and the pains and sorrow which come to me in my life?
Jesus said: It should not be like that among you! Does my way of living in community follow this advice of Jesus?
5) Concluding Prayer
Draw me out of the net they have spread for me,
for You are my refuge;
into Your hands I commit my spirit,
by You have I been redeemed. God of truth. (Ps 31,4-5)