Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a
Matthew 21:33-43, 45-46
We like most of our stories to end: "and they lived happily ever after". But the only way to give punch and energy to that kind of story is to start it by noting that things were going very badly. Because, if we start the story by saying everything was going as well as could be desired, then it’s hard, either to end it by saying that things kept getting better and better, or especially to conclude by saying that everything fell apart at the end, and proved to be a disaster. It is unlikely such a story would attract a strong readership.
God, of course, knows this, since He made us for happy endings, and the most reliable way to enjoy a happy ending is to start off badly. So the notion of redemption figures prominently in the stories God provides us in the bible. Redemption means restoration of or improvement upon an initially good situation, which comes on hard times, and threatens to unravel and fall apart.
So we hear two redemption sagas in today’s bible readings: one about Joseph, a son of the patriarch Jacob who (Joseph) came on hard times, and the other about the King who saw his servants upend and undo a very productive vineyard that he owned. Both these stories start well.
Jacob has a flock of boys (12 of them) who apparently got on well together, in boys’ fashion, that is, more or less. But as the story gets underway, it soon degenerates, with 11 of the brothers ganging up on a twelfth, Joseph, with Joseph coming out the loser, by his brothers throwing him into the bottom of an empty well, eventually to be hauled up and traded off to a band of wandering Ishmaelites in exchange for 20 pieces of silver, as these strangers proceeded on to Egypt, where Joseph was sold yet again. This is a very low point in Joseph’s life and things can only get better, as indeed they do. He eventually rose into a position of power in Egypt. We see redemption at work here: a happy ending to a dismal beginning.
Then we are presented the gospel story of a king sending his emissaries off to his flourishing vineyard to gather its grapes. We then learn of a bad situation that soon developed, when servants sent by the king to collect his produce are mistreated and killed, including his very own son sent by him to offset a rapidly deteriorating situation. However, this story was to end happily, if not for the troublesome tenants of the vineyard lands, at least for the king and a new batch of more reliable tenants. A redemption of sorts once again gets underway in this episode.
God’s stories usually end happily, but we can only appreciate them fully against a rather somber background. While we’re familiar with the commonplace observation that whatever goes up must come down, we have to be reminded that things at the bottom can rise to the top. That’s God special way of doing things, and it goes by the name: redemption.
In our everyday language, we call this a "repair job". When a piece of our equipment breaks down, we go to the repair person asking him or her to restore the broken object to working condition again. We’re accustomed to doing this. As a matter of fact, It is a form of redemption, illustrating that what has broken down can be restored to working order again. This is good news that occurs in the bible readings today. God is the repair person, the Redeemer. While we deplore that things break down, we rejoice when someone repairs them. This is redemption. And it is good news. The best way to start Lent is to acknowledge we are broken, but can look forward to Easter when we will be restored.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.