Fr. Charles Irvin
29th Sun [B] 2012
Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
The fundamental vision of the gospels is that the world has been corrupted by the arrogance of man. The world that is evil is not the world of beautiful flowers, glorious sunsets, and innocent children. The world, in the biblical sense of the word, is that the network of interpersonal relationships wherein men and women have arrogated the power of God to themselves. It is world wherein people exploit, dominate, corrupt, enslave, lie, cheat, steal, defraud, murder, rape, hate, and all such manner of things. All of this is done in the name of securing pleasure, in the name of exercising one’s private rights, in the name of protecting one’s honor, and in the fashion of painting any and all evil with any cosmetic semblance of virtue.
Mind you, I am not asserting the proposition that the world is totally and irreformably corrupted. I am asserting that human nature has suffered a mortal wound… that sin exists in our history, our heredity, our environment, in our origins. Sin abounds in the fabric of human interpersonal relationships…we all suffer from sin in our origins… hence the concept of Original Sin. Not that we are personally responsible for it, but we are all infected and affected by it simply because we are born into it.
Immediately we are confronted with the enormity of evil, the fantastic and tremendous iniquity of sin. Questions confront us, questions such as: Why do the good have to suffer? If we are good, why do we have to suffer? Do you have to suffer in order to be good? How is it that good and evil can co-exist? Why is it that absolute good and absolute evil can co-exist?
We all recoil before the overwhelming enormity of it all. We all wish that the struggle were over. Many shake their fists at God and blame God for creating a world in which evil exists. Many thereby attempt to make God responsible for the existence of exploitation, violence, frauds, cheating, stealing, rape, and any and all evil that exists. If God is so good, they say, why does He allow evil to exist? Why, God, did you have to make us with freedom of choice? Why do you allow us to choose against your will and plan… why, God, do you allow us to commit evil acts?
We want you to grant our request, said the sons of Zebedee. See to it that we sit one on your right and the other on your left. And the answer of Jesus comes back, Can you drink the cup I shall drink or be baptized in the same bath of pain as I?
What we are talking about is responsibility… the ability to respond to reality. What we are talking about is maturity, the ability to adequately respond to the truth of beings outside of ourselves. Our responsibility, the responsibility of each and every one of you, and my own responsibility, must be seen in the context of the world, in the fabric of all of those personal inter-relationships in which we exist. And I submit to you that the mark of a Christian can be described as this: The willingness to actively, not passively, realize and confront the evil within ourselves and in our world.
Can you, Jesus asks, drink of the cup I shall drink?
When he learned that Jesus would have to suffer, it was Peter who tried to dissuade Jesus from going up to Jerusalem. It was Jesus who told Peter that he was a satan, a devil, for suggesting that Jesus avoid a confrontation with evil, sin, suffering, and death. The way to psychological maturity is the same way to Christian maturity and spiritual maturity. It is the willingness to actively accept responsibility for and confront the evil in our selves and in others, and in our world.
In our day, the pseudo-morality of our superficial culture tells us that we can do anything we want so long as we don’t hurt anyone. On the surface that sounds like an attractive and reasonable moral system. In fact, many people define themselves as Christian in terms of simply being a good person and not hurting anyone. The trouble with that way of thinking is that with one blow it eviscerates the whole moral integrity of Christ and it reduces being a Christian to a weak sort of namby-pamby “do-goodism.” Being a Christian is more than simply being polite.
The fundamental proposition we hear is that hurt and suffering are intrinsically and ipso facto evil. Pain and suffering are to be avoided at all costs…any means of avoiding suffering is morally valid and licit. What, then, of avoiding pain through the overuse of alcohol or drugs? What of all the escape mechanisms we use? If everyone followed the dictates of this pseudo-morality would any of us reasonably expect to have seen a Martin Luther King, a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, or any one of our present day heroes and heroines who have responded to evil and actively accepted pain and suffering and hurt for the benefit of others?
Maturation involves suffering, life involves suffering, and sin abounds. Can you drink of the cup I shall drink or be baptized in the same bath of pain as I? If you can, Jesus promises us, then I shall give you a realization of what’s really in you and a self-discovery that will truly be good news. For the fact is that we discover who we are, we find our character and we realize our potentialities by facing the world and loving it all enough to change it. It’s all a matter of loving those who hurt us enough so that we don’t cast them aside…of loving them so much they are disarmed. With that sort of love they can afford to throw down their weapons.
We cannot, however, be foolish enough to believe that loving like that is merely human. We have to recognize that it takes a love that is divine in order to move mountains like that. We are not, however, powerless in the face of the enemy, in the face of the
monstrosity of evil that confronts us in the daily headlines, in the face of the enormity of human relationships that have massed us over. We have a power, we have a source, we have a way, a truth, and a life that make sense.
It appears to many that it is an absurdity to be a Christian… it appears to be a cop-out, to be madness, to be religious fanaticism. However in a world that has gone totally insane and totally mad with power, its use and the brokerage of power, with exploitation, lies, cheating, bribing, and all of the wars, rapes, and ugly messing up of life, in a world gone mad and insane with sin, the only sanity left will certainly appear to be insanity. All around us the cultured despisers of religion tell us we are foolish. But they are blind.
Following in Jesus’ footsteps means not listening to the voice of Peter reasoning with us to avoid pain and suffering. Following Jesus means going up to Jerusalem with its Cross and actively willing to face, accept, and confront the evil that’s in us and in others. That’s the only way to emotional and psychological maturity. That’s the only way to Christian and spiritual maturity.
Can you drink the cup 1 shall drink or be baptized in the same bath of pain as I? We can He asked the sons of Zebedee. And Jesus said in response to them, as he says in response to you: From the cup I drink of you shall drink.
We are not responsible for all the evil in the world in the sense that we will be held personally accountable for it. We will, however, be held accountable for our ability to respond to evil. God expects us to be mature and adult Christians like His Son, and to love the world enough to save it, not escape from it… to love those whom we contact with the power of the Holy Spirit…the power God has given us to change bread and wine… the power to change human flesh into something that is divine.
Overcoming evil is not easy. It involves pain, pain that Jesusaccepted and pain that we must likewise accept. It is the cup from which we all must drink, the cup of salvation that redeems our world. It is the way, the truth, and the life… it is the way of Jesus and it is our way with Him. Alone we cannot overcome; with Him we shall overcome. He is not distant and remote. He is near and He is about to become one with you in the Holy Communion that we now enter into. Enter into me, He says, and I will enter into you.
Together we shall overcome.