"Come, let us decide what to do with Jeremiah," people say. "There will still be priests to guide us, still wise men to advise us, still prophets to proclaim the word. Come, let us bring charges against him, and let us not heed any of his words."
Give heed to me, O Lord, and listen to what my adversaries say! Is evil a recompense for good? Yet they have dug a pit for my life. Remember how I stood before you to speak good for them, to turn away your wrath from them.
Release me from the snares they have hidden
for you are my refuge, Lord.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.
It is you who will redeem me, Lord. (R./)
I have heard the slander of the crowd,
fear is all around me,
as they plot together against me,
as they plan to take my life. (R./)
But as for me, I trust in you, Lord,
I say: 'You are my God.
My life is in your hands, deliver me
from the hands of those who hate me.' (R./)
While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised."
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favour of him. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father."
When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be our servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Both readings refer to the hardship that genuine prophets often have to experience. Jeremiah's own family have turned against him, and the religious leaders aim to do away with Jesus for threatening the status quo. But Jeremiah was trying to serve the welfare of others. "Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them." What he wanted for them was health, peace and life. The whole aim of Jesus, likewise, was to help those most in need of help. "I am come to seek and to save what was lost."
This kind of costly service needs to be sustained by prayer. Jeremiah's apostolic activity arose from his sense of God and what God wanted for his people. But at the end of his "confession" Jeremiah seems to change course and he prays God for revenge on those who had rejected him. It seems that these "confessions" were originally a personal diary, never intended for publication. A later editor found this diary after the prophet's death, and inserted these candid personal documents where he felt they belonged in his prophetic scroll. At any rate, when Jeremiah curses his enemies, he is not at his best. He is simply being honest and open about his feelings, saying, as it were: "Here, God, is how I feel. Help!"
When Jeremiah was most in darkness, he still sought the Lord's will. It is important to trust that God knows what we go through, and has an over-arching plan to finally grant us salvation. Even Jesus did not claim to know every detail of the Father's plan for him (Matt 24:36) and said he could not promise the privileges asked for by James and John. Perhaps it was their mother who asked Jesus to give her sons the highest places in his kingdom. In Mark's version, it was the pair themselves who made this selfish request. But God's kingdom is not served by personal ambition or double-dealing! Our gospel today begins and ends humility and sacrifice. He "has come, not to be served but to serve, to give his own life."
Jesus asks James and John, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" Were they were prepared to share his cup, to throw in their lot with him, to follow where he leads, even though it may mean the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, "Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me." Yet, he went on to drink that cup to the full on the cross. At the last supper, he drank of the cup, and then gave the cup to his disciples, who also drank from it. Yet, a little later, they deserted him and fled.
In spite of what they promised, James and John would not follow when the going got hard. We too are invited to drink from the Lord's cup, the cup of the Eucharist. In doing so, we are expressing our willingness to go where he leads and walk in his way. Jesus teaches that way of self-giving service of others, as against lording it over them. We pray that after sharing the Lord's cup today, we may be faithful to what that commits us to, namely walking in the footsteps of the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.