2nd Saturday of Lent
In today’s gospel, we have a reversal – the good boy is really the bad boy and the bad boy is really the good boy.
In every pagan religious system, the elder son would have been the hero of the piece. He is the virtuous person, who has conquered himself through strenuous efforts. He is the self-controlled wise man. He has blood, sweat and tears to show for it. He has acquired tremendous force of will but in this the parable he turns out to be the villain of the piece.
The wastrel, the person who messed up, who by right should be the villain, whom Karma – the inexorable law of consequences – should have ground into minced meat – this person is the hero.
It is the strange and baffling reversal -the workers at the eleventh hour get the same pay as those who slogged through the heat of the day. It is as if, Christianity has discarded the connection between cause and effect as we know it.
When God comes in the flesh and empties Himself taking the form of a slave – then the model human being in the Christian dispensation cannot be the self-made virtuous spiritual athlete. The sage and wise man who has perfect self-possession cannot be our model. The rugged spiritual individualist will be a contradiction in terms.
In the face of the self-emptying of God in Christ, only the humble person is the hero. Paradoxically the humble do not know they are humble as well. The humility of God only draws the humble deeper and deeper into the abyss of self-surrender to the One who has surrendered Himself into our hands.
St Benedict got this from the get go – his Rule is not a self-help manual. The heart of the Rule is Chapter 7 on Humility. And Benedict’s hero stands in contradistinction to the pagan hero. At the highest step of humility – the 12th step – we see the great reversal. The Benedictine hero is almost pathetic. ‘His head is bowed and eyes cast down. Judging himself always guilty on account of his sins, he should consider that his already at the fearful judgment and constantly say in his heart with downcast eyes: Lord I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven.’ But then Christ on the Cross also cuts a pathetic figure as well.