First Reading Commentary
The Fathers of the Church describe this Reading as a clear prediction of what will happen to our Lord Jesus Christ. This Reading also suggests that the choice of wrongdoing is a free choice because the verse, "With revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test" indicates premeditated wrongdoing to the “just one.”
Going back to last week's commentary on who the real enemy is, one can sense the evil influence in the voices of the men of this Reading. As with most Readings from the Old Testament, Jesus is the fulfillment of a prophecy or prediction; but there's usually a current story line also as to why the passage was written. In this particular case the Jews were being persecuted by pagans and others who had no fear of God. More than likely the “just one” refers to the Jewish people as they could easily be considered “just” because they sided with the Lord. But the suffering experienced by the Jews in the Old Testament would eventually find fulfillment in the suffering, death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and His sufferings would have eternal value as do our sufferings because Jesus offers us the opportunity to be more like Him as sharers in His redemptive work.
For a clearer understanding of what the Church teaches about suffering, the Apostolic Letter of Saint John Paul II, "Salvifici Doloris" would be an excellent place to start. This can be found at the Vatican website.
Second Reading Commentary
God wants to do incredible things for us but because of our passions and our sometimes not-so-holy desires, He simply cannot grant those things which would not be fruitful to us because He is indescribably in love with us. Through prayer and reading of Scripture heavenly wisdom can be sought after, helping us to discern what should or should not be prayed for. God is Love and His love is aimed directly at us; and He desperately wants us to love Him.
In the Old Testament God refers to Himself as “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). Our unruly passions and desires of the flesh are things we use to unknowingly build a wall between God and us. Our Lord wants us to be free of such things and trust in His care.
Fourth century ascetical writer, Evagrius Ponticus, offers these words of hope: "Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask of Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer." This statement intimates that our Lord wants to give us so much but our spiritual life must be in the proper condition as the words "cling to Him in prayer" suggest; and the word "cling" is a strong word which conjures up images of holding on for dear life and not letting go. Yet this is exactly what we need to do with our Lord because we are being pursued by what Saint John Paul II called "the mystery of evil."
In Scripture Saint Peter warns us about this when he said, "Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8). Saint Augustine urges us to have a prayerful life as he said, "God wills that our desire should be exercised in prayer, that we may be able to receive what He is prepared to give."
In simplest terms, God loves us so much that He is willing to call us His children; and what loving parent wouldn't want the best for their child! Our role is to live as children of God by avoiding those passions mentioned in this Reading which can only lead to sin; and cling to our Lord in prayer, giving ourselves completely to Him, ready to receive all that He has prepared for us.
Jesus begins to tell His apostles about His eventual Crucifixion and Resurrection “but they did not understand.” Nicholas of Lyra explains: "They could not comprehend what He said; and this is not so much through the dullness and stupidity of their understandings, as through their personal affection to Him; and because knowing Him to be God, they could not conceive how God could die."
How often are we in the dark and not quite sure why God is leading us down certain roads in life? We have two choices: We can either trust in Him, having the faith to know that wherever the road leads is for our own good; or we can jump off the road and live according to our own desires.
“They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” If this is what the apostles were discussing it seems reasonable to believe that at this point they still don't quite understand that Christ's Kingdom is not of this world. Their discussion would seem to suggest that they were trying to figure out what position they would hold or how much authority they would have in our Lord's worldly government. We can only imagine what their faces must have looked like when Jesus told them they were to be servants.
"Whoever receives one child such as this in My Name, receives Me." Jesus doesn't necessarily mean a child in the literal sense; although a child does fit the description of what He is revealing to His apostles. Children are unable to take care of themselves and rely heavily on the care and love they receive from their parents, grandparents and other adults. What Jesus is saying to His apostles is that they are charged with the responsibility of caring for those who are unable to care for themselves. This could be children, the elderly, the handicapped, the terminally ill, or anyone who is unable to tend to their own needs. We're all disciples of Jesus which means that this responsibility doesn't begin and end with the twelve apostles. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: "The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those furthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ Himself" (CCC 1825).