Interior Peace Comes from Seeking the Glory of God, not of Self

Sep 24, 2017: 25th Sunday in OT

Isaiah 55:6-9
Psalms 145:2-3, 8-9, 17-18
Philippians 1:20-24, 27
Matthew 20:1-16

“The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This is a warning.

Christ tells this parable right after Peter asked Him what the twelve Apostles will get in return for having given up everything to follow Jesus. The parable itself most obviously applies to the Jewish nation in general. The Jews were God’s Chosen People, the first nation on earth to receive God’s revelation. They are the workers who were hired at daylight. However, when the eternal Kingdom appears in all its fullness at the end of history, the Jews may find others honored by God more than themselves, just as the first workers found that the latecomers were treated with extra generosity — the last will be first. The parable is also a warning to the Apostles. They too were given a special role in the history of salvation. They were chosen to be the visible foundation of the Church, but in the end, others will achieve greatness in Christ’s name as well — the first will be last.

God has plans that we do not always understand.

As the First Reading put it, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways.”

Why does Jesus issue this warning? Because He wants us to have interior peace. Nothing disturbs our minds more than the thirst for recognition and esteem. When we are always comparing ourselves to others, we are filled with worries, envy, stress, anger, and uncertainty. Moreover, this can occur even within our own Christian communities!

But if we simply try to give our best in life for Christ, thinking more of the glory of God than of self, and recognizing the abundant generosity of God’s love, then our trust in Him will grow, those selfish motives will shrink, and we will begin to experience the unshakable peace and security that only Christ can give.

Jesus is the very best of teachers, because He always backs up His words with His example. It is interesting to note that the very next passage in the Gospel of Matthew, the one right after this parable, is our Lord’s third and final prediction of His coming passion. Jesus and His Apostles were going up to Jerusalem, and St Matthew tells us that while they were on their way, Jesus took the Twelve aside and said to them, “Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans to be mocked and scourged and crucified; and on the third day he will rise again.”

Jesus had just told them that “the last shall be first,” and now He tells them that He is going to allow himself to be humiliated, tortured, and killed — that He will freely be taking the very last place.

Notice how specific Jesus’ prediction is. He points out that His persecutors will be both Jewish and Gentile and He details the different types of torture that will be used. He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him, and yet, knowing it, He still walks right into it. Instead of honor, Jesus freely accepts scorn; instead of a reward, He freely accepts punishment; instead of praise, mockery.

Those who are vain and envious and seek the first place all the time will end up in the last place; their lives will be flashy on the outside for a little while, and tragic on the inside forever, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Jesus treads the path first, so His friends will not fear to follow.

Spiritual writers refer to this aspect of our Christian lives as purity of intention. In all that we do, we should be striving not for praise and recognition from other people here on earth, but for God’s reward in heaven. We should strive simply to love God and to love our neighbor, to do good to others to be mirrors of God’s own goodness in this fallen world. God is like the sun, giving off heat and light to all people, the humble and grateful, and the wicked and self-serving. Purity of intention makes us like that. It frees us from being slaves of other people’s fickle opinions, bringing peace, and equanimity to our souls. This does not mean we should not take pleasure in the gratitude and recognition that sometimes comes to us even here on earth — that’s fine and healthy. The dangerous thing is to make such recognition our goal.

There is one very easy way for us to take the temperature of our purity of intention: look at our reaction when we do something for someone and they do not say “thank you.” The natural reaction is to give into feelings of resentment and anger, and maybe even vengeance. The supernatural reaction, the one that shows purity of intention, is to let those feelings pass by, like clouds, and keep the eyes of our soul focused on Christ’s cross. When others do not appreciate us, we are being treated a little bit as Christ was treated. If we are true followers of Christ, that alone should give us deep spiritual joy.

Today, as Christ renews His commitment to us in this Holy Mass, let’s renew our commitment to Him, and ask Him to give us the interior peace that comes from learning purity of intention.

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