Reflection for 7 February 2008
Every Lent it usually takes me a few days to make the mental transition to remembering to do the “Glory and praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ,” as opposed to "the A-word" (heh) before the gospel, but perhaps it is good to recall just how paradoxical those words are as we begin Lent. Our image of Jesus tends to spend a lot of energy on the glory and the praise, I think, and if we were to ask why that is so, perhaps we just jump to the easy answer, “Because he’s God,” never mind the linguistic difficulties of such an undialectical statement (see Rahner’s article to that effect). But the gospel today should radically critique our usual notions of glory: when Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised,” it passes us right by because we know the story. If you read around this passage, though, it’s quite clear that it is a huge scandal for the disciples; it doesn’t make any sense, I presume because they believed that Jesus was the kind of Messiah that lots of other Jews of the time were expecting (and the kind we would want if we were in the situation of occupation and oppression that they were facing): a warrior, a king, in short, a butt-kicker against Rome.
I went to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar last weekend, and in it there is a scene in which after Simon tries to get Jesus to whip the adoring crowds up into frenzy against Rome, sings:
“Neither you Simon, nor the fifty thousand
Nor the Romans, nor the Jews
Nor Judas, nor the twelve
Nor the priests, nor the scribes
Nor doomed Jerusalem itself
Understand what power is
Understand what glory is
Understand at all”
It’s a touching scene, countering the energy and movement of the crowd with the still voice of Jesus, but it shows insight into the paradox of glory that Merton writes about in his prose poem, “Hagia Sophia,” in which the She is Sophia (Holy Wisdom), and He is Christ:
“She crowns Him not with what is glorious, but with what is greater than glory: the one thing greater than glory is weakness, nothingness, poverty.”
Perhaps in addition to the usual slate of penance-type activities this Lent, going down into the soil of these kinds of paradoxes is a good thing to spend some time with for the next 40 days.