The people say "Come, let us decide what to do with Jeremiah. 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./)
As 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 Gentilest 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."
The Bible often mentions the malice that people can plot against others. Jeremiah's own family had already turned against him (Jer 12:6-23), and now the religious and secular authorities plot to do away with him as troublesome challenge to the easy, popular consensus, or as we say today, a "contrarian". But Jeremiah held that the initial, essential attitude for all religious work: prayer for the welfare of others. "Heed me, O Lord! . . . Remember that I stood before you to speak in their behalf, to turn away your wrath from them." We seek their goodness, their peace, their life. These gifts come from the Lord and must be sought from him. Jeremiah's apostolic activity redounded from the remembrance of the Lord and His plans and hopes for others. The end of Jeremiah's "confession" seems to reverse this attitude and demand revenge from God upon these same people, now the prophet's persecutors. It seems that these "confessions" of Jeremiah were originally composed as a personal diary and were never intended for public eyes. The editor of the book of Jeremiah would have found this diary, after completing the initial draft of his manuscript — in fact, well after the prophet's death — and inserted these profoundly personal documents where he felt they belonged historically. When Jeremiah curses his enemies, he is not necessarily proud of himself. He is simply being open before God, saying, as it were: "Here, God, is how I feel. Help!" When he turned to God in prayer he firmly believed in the divine plan for all his people. Here then is the second, essential attitude for serving God's people: to seek the Lord's will. We must set aside the struggle for reputation and prestige, and genuinely want to serve.
According to Matthew, it was the mother of James and John who secretly asked Jesus to promise that her sons would have the top places in his kingdom. In Mark's version, it was the two brothers themselves who made this shameless request. But God's plans are not served by personal ambition or double-dealing! We too must not seek special status nor be obsessed with our own ambitions. The lust for status is condemned by Jesus. Today's gospel begins and ends with an announcement of Jesus' death. He "has come, not to be served by others, but to serve, to give his own life." Conversions and other apostolic achievements are most authentic when the apostle is humble before the goodness of others and before the wonder of God.
Jesus asks his followers, "Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?" He was asking them if 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 their expressed desire to drink from the Lord's cup, James and John would not follow where he would lead them. Later in this Mass we will be 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 in talking the Lord's cup today, we would be faithful to what that action signifies — walking in the footsteps of the Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve.