Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday of the Eighth Week In Ordinary Time

(Sirach 36:1.4-5a.10-17; Mark 10:32-45)

In the last days of 1776 George Washington and the cause of American independence were having a rough time. The general had been routed in New York, and confidence in him was waning. The army was literally in tatters, and the winter was one of the worse in years. Added to all this, many of the soldiers’ inscriptions would expire on January 1. Then fortune suddenly blew the other way. On Christmas night the American army in a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton took almost nine hundred prisoners with few casualties. Most of Washington’s soldiers reenlisted wanting to follow their commander to victory. Such a turnabout is what Ben Sirach seeks in the reading today.

In the second century before Christ, the people of Israel are almost completely suppressed. Long conquered, they are forced to see their holy places desecrated by their Greek rulers and the compromised Jewish elite. Ben Sirach, who lived in Jerusalem, wants to remind the people of their rich heritage. In the prayer that comprises today’s passage, he pleads God to give a demonstration of power to restore the people’s morale. He is coy about his reason, however, preferring to cajole the Lord with pretensions of worldly praise if He exalted His own.

God, of course, does not need public support. He seems to eschew it, in fact. In the gospel Jesus predicts that he will be defiled, whipped, and executed. He will rise from the dead as well but will appear only to a select few so that they might realize that the greatest grandeur lies in self-sacrificing love not acts of awe and wonder.