Friday of the Second Week of Lent
The readings for the day can be found here.
In the readings for today, we hear about favored sons who are loved by their fathers but who are treated pretty roughly by their siblings. This is still pretty early in Lent, but the Church gives us these readings as a way of preparing us to encounter again in a deeper way when Holy Week comes around, what the central Christian mystery is. God the Father sends his eternal Son to humble himself and become a person in order to embody not only the message but the reality of the Father’s love for all people, in every corner of the globe. This reality of God’s self-emptying love for us culminates in Jesus’ death on the cross where even to the moment of his death, he intercedes for those who are killing him that they might be forgiven by his Father.
A prefiguration of this story is in the Old Testament in the narrative about Joseph, son of Israel (Jacob) who ends up being the “savior” of his brothers even after they have tried to kill him out of their own insecurity and jealousy. The first reading describes the situation: “Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons” (Gen 37:3). There’s something about the closeness of Joseph to his father that makes his brothers despise him. In the end, that’s what does in Jesus too. He is killed because people refuse to believe that a regular person like us could be that close to God, could even be God. Surely God would not act like this, coming this close to us!
In the gospel, Jesus tells a parable that illumines a similar reality. A landowner goes away and sends his servants to stay in touch with the tenants, but they rise up in jealousy and kill all the messengers (read: prophets). But the landowner who is also a Father does not give up. Jesus explains, “Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and acquire his inheritance.’ They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.”
Here is the mystery for us to contemplate at this point in Lent. Rather than focusing primarily on our own need to get our lives into order, let’s turn and look and wonder at what God’s solution is to our human reality of radical selfishness and pettiness and sometimes even hostility and violence. He sends his Son. And even when the son is rejected, he does not back off from the mission. He continues to open his heart up to all, even to those who reject him, so that they might be touched by that relentless love.
At the moment of the crucifixion, the soldier who was complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion, perhaps the one who thrust the spear through Jesus’ heart to make sure he was dead, only moments later, has a clear vision of reality: “This man was innocent beyond doubt!” (Lk 23:47). Something happens in the act of the faithful son, taking all of the hostility of the world in love. And when that fidelity of Jesus is witnessed by that centurion, something in turn happens to him. He is moved from an act of violence to a profession of faith and conversion of heart.
May we be opened up to the same change of heart this Lent, that we might come to a new vision of the depth of the love God has for us by sending his own Son to open the heart of God to all of humanity so that our hearts might be opened up to Him.
Fr. Chris Collins, S.J. is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology in the Department of Theological Studies.