Christ is Giving His Life and We're Being Prideful? Seriously?
Well, here we are at the fifth and last Sunday of Great Lent and already, we are beginning to see things breaking apart for Jesus. The disciples that we normally think of as being among the greatest Saints in the history of the Church, were not always the most committed and faithful friends during Jesus’ life. They, like so many other Jews in those days, misunderstood the role of the Messiah and what type of Kingdom He’d be bringing. In fact, just like many of us, they wanted some instant gratification, some instant freedom from Rome, some instant financial gain with lower taxes, and some instant autonomy without outside influence.
It’s amazing to me, as we look at our own situation, how little has changed, how little we’ve grown as human beings. Many still think that a President is going to make or break the whole country when it’s the morality of the public that really determines the country’s future. We still think that laws and not morality will fix all of society’s ills. And we still think that more money in our pocket equates to more joy and fulfillment. The fact is: we’re no more enlightened than they were at the time. It wasn’t until Christ had resurrected and then sent the Holy Spirit on them at Pentecost that they were willing to give it all for Him. Until then, they really didn’t get it; they were still caught up in their pride.
So, as Jesus walks with them from Jericho through Bethany to Jerusalem, He tells them straight out, I’m going to the city and the leaders are going to kill Me. It wasn’t the first time that He told them but it was the last warning. Imagine hearing Jesus speak those words. How would you have responded? In this passage, it seems like some of the disciples are thinking, “Here’s Jesus being overly dramatic again.” James and John specifically seem to be either incredulous or deaf because right after Jesus tells them that He is about to die, they ask for a favor. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mark 10:37) They were so consumed with their pride, seeking their own glory, that they didn’t hear at all what Jesus actually said!
But this shouldn’t come as any surprise; we’re all distracted by pride at some point. We’re all driven by our desire for comfort and recognition and praise. We may even think, “What’s wrong with that?” but Jesus shows us that it’s the humble who are most recognized by God, the least who are counted as the great. I know I’ve spoken about this many times before but let me say this: it’s not the pride for family or country or even church that’s destroying us. It’s the pride that produces arrogance in us, that tells us that we do not need God or his Church in our lives, that we don’t need a Savior, that we don’t need forgiveness. That’s deadly pride. That’s why we see so many people – our own families – completely lost, going through life with no direction and no purpose.
So, it’s this notion of pride that we see in the disciples that brings us to commemorate St Mary of Egypt today. We normally think of St Mary as an example of great repentance and humility, but her story also includes an interesting example of pride. St Mary was discovered in the desert by Zosimas, a monk at a nearby monastery. He was well-known as a great ascetic. And this reputation caused him to slip into pride…
Zosimas struggled with the temptation that there was no one greater than him: “Is there a monk on earth who can be of use to me and show me a kind of asceticism I have not accomplished? Is there a man to be found in the desert who has surpassed me?”
That’s when God sent an angel to tell Zosimas to go off into the wilderness. Out there he found, not a man who surpassed him, but a woman: St Mary of Egypt. Encountering this great saint, a former prostitute of all things, helped Zosimas find his way, and return to the path of humility. Today, we also remember St. Zosimas as a great saint of the Church, a man who found his way back to God by getting lost in the desert.
If there is a message for us, it is that pride can distract us no matter how spiritually advanced we may think we are. It affects all of us because we think that we are in control, that we are superior even to God somehow, yet God is always ready to give a nudge back in the direction of humility. The next time He nudges you, thank Him. He’s doing it to save your soul.