Death and Magpies

Lord Jesus told His beloved disciples exactly what would happen.

Christ had come to the world to give us the love of God, to teach true religion, to restore the friendship between man and the Creator. And the tinpot dictators of Jerusalem hated every minute of it.

silver-bill-finchJesus told the disciples: The petty, worldling rulers of Jerusalem would kill Him. Cruelly, unjustly. Mocking Him and spitting in His face. He told the disciples that He would die like a low-life criminal, right in front of the their eyes, in a sudden hailstorm of human brutality.

And yet, when it all came to pass just as He had said, the disciples freaked out. Like a twittering finches and magpies in a tree.

Did the Son of God ever promise us an easy life? Did He ever say: “Take it light. You will face no difficulties. Everything will be cushy till you retire. Then, I will make death optional?”

Like I said a couple weeks ago, Lent can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But another thing it definitely means, in and of itself: Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you will return. God Himself faced squarely that fact that He was to die in the flesh. Not prettily; death never comes wrapped in a doily. He faced it, and so must we. We will die, and all the worldly things we grasp at now will seem like just so much straw at that moment.

Praised be the Lord, Christ has endless patience with us. The episode from the gospel we read at Holy Mass today–which is a fixture of our Lents together, since we always read the account of the ambition of the sons of Zebedee exactly two weeks after Ash Wednesday–this passage shows us the indefatigable, loving, fatherly patience of Christ.

memento-moriFirst, the sons let their mother do the talking for them. Christ patiently let that pass. Then, they wanted grandeur in exchange for their allegiance to Him. But Christ saw through that, and He knew that they did, in fact, love Him. So He promised them a share in His Passover, while quietly side-stepping the question of who takes precedence among the Apostles.

Then the others got all hot and bothered about James’ and John’s secret ambition. But the Lord smoothed that all over. He explained what they all had in common. Namely, not being power-hungry like the Gentiles.

The whole lot of them had altogether missed the cold and purifiying dose of truth that Christ had tried to give them when He told them that ignominious death awaited him, just as it awaited them. They missed that altogether, even though He stated it clearly, in plain Aramaic.

The disciples dithered in utter obtuseness. But Christ did not get angry. He just continued trying to get through to them by gentle and patient instruction.

In their own way, the disciples were really just as obtuse as the chief priests and scibes. Like us. In our own way, we, too, are just as obtuse as the chief priests and scribes, who handed the Prince of Peace over to Pontius Pilate for summary crucifixion.

But the good Lord exercises the same patience with us that He did with His original disciples. We can twitter like magpies and finches, and flit hither and yon, while reality is trying to stare us in the face. The reality of death, which is our passover to a kingdom we can hardly imagine, in which our ideas now about status and precedence will seem utterly laughable.

We flit and twitter. But Christ does not give up on us. He keeps trying to teach us, and wrap us up in His love, all the way to our dying breath.

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