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 the cause of American independence was thrown into doubt. George Washington’s army had been routed in New York, and confidence in the general was waning. The army literally walked in tatters through one of the worse winters in years. Added to all this trouble, many of the soldiers’ inscriptions would expire on January 1. Then seemingly out of the dark a blessing came. On Christmas night the American army took almost nine hundred prisoners with few casualties in a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton. 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. Having been long a conquered nation, they now see their holy places desecrated by the Greek lords and the compromised Jewish elite. Living in Jerusalem, Ben Sirach wants to remind the people of their rich heritage. In the prayer that comprises today’s passage, he pleads God to demonstrate His power so the morale of the people may be restored. He is coy about this reason, however. He tries to cajole the Lord with pretensions of praise from the entire world if He demonstrates His power.
God, of course, does not look for 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. He wants his disciples to understand that the greatest grandeur lies in self-sacrificing love not acts of "shock and aw."