Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On The Road To Jerusalem

On the Road to Jerusalem ~ James Fairman (American 1826-1904)

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, Jesus leading the way; and the disciples were filled with awe; while those who followed behind were afraid. He took the Twelve aside and began to tell them what was to happen to him. "We are now going to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests and the doctors of the law; they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the foreign power. He will be mocked and spat upon, flogged and killed; and three days afterward, he will rise again." 
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him and said, "Master, we should like you to do us a favour." "What is it you want me to do?" he asked. They answered, "Grant us the right to sit in state with you, one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not understand what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" "We can", they answered. Jesus said, "The cup that I drink you shall drink, and the baptism I am baptized with shall be your baptism; but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant; it is for those to whom it has already been assigned."  Mark 10:32-40

Maybe James Fairman had these gospel verses in mind when he painted this picture titled: On the Road to Jerusalem. This Jerusalem road is not an easy way - notice in the bottom right hand corner there are some folks resting under some shade trees. We can imagine the happiness travelers felt coming around the bend and seeing Jerusalem off in the distance. Maybe we've heard the Negro-Spiritual: Oh, What A Beautiful City.

They were going up to Jerusalem with Jesus leading the way. Jesus is going to do the work he has to do. Notice he not being taken there by others, but he's leading. He's in charge and doing first what we must do.

The disciples were filled with awe. Awe is an emotional word - something is too wonderful for words. The beauty, the glory, the wonder is beyond descripton. Awe is a word we might use to express an experience of God - a kind of bow-down word. But then...

while those who followed behind were afraid. Strange. It seems there are two groups going along with Jesus. Who are these people who are just following behind? And why are they afraid? Are they afraid for Jesus? Are they afraid for themselves - that they know Jesus has enemies which might spell trouble for them. Or maybe, St. Mark is giving us a heads up - that when we hear Jesus teaching in the next verses we might feel our own fear.

"The Son of Man will be given up to the chief priests..." This is called the Third Passion Prediction. Jesus knows. And isn't it interesting that in very plain language, Jesus has told the disciples what's going to happen to him. There's the bad news and then Easter's good news. Yet when the tomb is found empty and the women relay the angel's message, they don't believe. Of course, we understand, we know how we are.

Then James and John appraoched him and asked, "Master we would like you to do us a favor..." Pretty incredible, isn't it? Jesus has given them earth-shaking news, horrifying news, and they're asking favors for themselves! Maybe it was just too much to handle and so they clumsily change the subject.

They want prominent places (to sit in state with you, one at your right, the other at your left). They want power places. It's like manipulating for a cabinet post, hoping to be made a monsignor, climbing the social or political ladder. Pope Francis told a group of cardinals: "Scarlet means service, not power." 

Jesus said, "You do not understand what you are asking?" He is going to Jerusalem to empty himself in the ultimate service and they don't understand the implications for themselves. Indeed, even after having been with Jesus for three years, come the last supper, and there's no servant to wash feet at the door, Jesus waited until the middle of the meal to see if the apostles would serve each other with basin and towel. They don't, and so he gets up from the table and shows them one last time how service is done. We can get religion very wrong.

"Can you drink the cup?" Sounds Eucharistic. At Mass, the bread is broken, passed around and given away. The cup is passed around and emptied. That's terrifying if I understand the implications for myself. Do we think of this as we walk the Communion line?

"We can!" James and John answer. They sound very sure of themselves, don't they? But then they'll run away from Jesus in the Gethsemane Garden. I've seen militant Catholic websites: Fight The Good Fight For Orthodox Catholic Teaching! They sound very sure of themselves. As if they somehow have it over James and John.

Here is the centerpiece of Jesus' teaching. These two boys are looking for posts in Jesus be Jesus' counselors, his consultants, his spokespersons. But Jesus will have none of it. Rather: the great ones are the ones who serve. We're invited to share in his service by learning compassion, which is to identify with others in their suffering and struggle. Even with those who are far away.

I can't think of the last time I heard a TV news item about Africa. It's as if it doesn't even exist, only our political primaries, our elections and the subsequent chaos. Serving is the doing of good deeds, the simple and God-pleasing Corporal Works of Mercy, yes, but beyond that, service is justice. Justice is a game-changer. "If you want peace, make justice happen," Pope Paul VI said when he visited the United Nations in 1965.


  1. We are all on the road to Jerusalem together, frightened but with the best intentions. Sometimes we just need to be reminded as to what God is really asking of us.

  2. I want to be in awe of God. Thank you for showing us what the road really means.

    1. An awe-restorer: read a miracle account of Jesus in any of the four Gospels. Read it more slowly than ever before - especially if there's an interior whisper that says, "Oh, I've heard this a million times." Savor each word. Then be absolutely still. Silent

  3. You inspire us to follow Jesus more deeply. Thank you for helping us to understand the Gospels and for guiding us down the road. It may be a difficult path, but we all have to travel it in our own way. I hope that Jesus is pleased with my journey. I know I can serve others more.

    1. There you go! And Jesus, mother-like, is so glad for every step we take, however halting. Be encouraged!