Franciscan Spirit Blog

Lent with Richard Rohr: The Pain and Promise of Change

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent | Readings: Jeremiah 18:18–20; Matthew 20:17–28


If there is a constantly recurring theme in mythology, literature, and theater, it is that human beings who try to avoid changing themselves (an invitation which normally comes through “humiliating self-knowledge”) always set out on a destructive course of trying to change the world, others, or even God. It is the old theme of hubris in Greek theater, and seems to be at the heart of every tragedy.

In its most dramatic form, of course, it even insists on the death of others and becomes murder, catastrophe, or war. Anything rather than change ourselves! Swiss psychologist C.G. Jung said that to avoid the “legitimate suffering” of being human, we inflict untold suffering on others, and finally actually bring more suffering on ourselves anyway. I find that to be profoundly true.

We see these patterns in both of today’s readings. In the first from the prophet Jeremiah, we see “the men of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem” plotting against his life. His truth-speaking has exposed their corruption, and he must be done away with. The part of the passage included seems to show that Jeremiah is forgiving, but if we read the whole prayer, we see that even he is eventually drawn into their cycle of vengeance and death.

Then in the Gospel, we see Jesus inviting his inner circle to follow him on the path of redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence (which has been the accepted story line of almost all of human history). Jesus, against all odds, expectations, and human programming, insists that we make the preemptive and positive move into “drinking of the cup” ourselves instead of always asking others to drink it.

Note that two of the apostles send their mother to plead their case for not dying, but instead they want to be “enthroned”! The other ten are just jealous because they want the same. The whole scene is meant to be a laughable cartoon, and I am afraid it is a rather clear judgment on much of what became of the church, even in its leadership. I do not want to be unfair, but read our history—ecclesial and political. We still do not want to change ourselves; we want to change others instead.


“From the cup I drink of, you shall indeed also drink. . . . Among the Gentiles, those who have authority lord it over others and make their importance felt. It must not be like that with you! Anyone who aspires to greatness among you must serve the rest, and anyone who wants to rank first among you, must serve the needs of all.” –Matthew 20:23, 25–27


“Well, God, I sure do not like to hear this, but show me how it might be true in my life. Do I also ‘kill’ others as a substitute for those necessary deaths to myself?”

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