If there is one season in the entire liturgical calendar that defines the difference between the Divine plan and man’s plan for living in the starkest contrast, that season is Lent.
Whether it’s a pop song, a TV sitcom, a gender-studies program at a university, the world’s view, as it was before the time of our Lord and ever afterward, is summed up by the credo: Get what you want — when you want — and as long as you aren’t overly dogmatic about anything, you are a person of virtue.
And that worldview of past, present, and, most assuredly, future always has and always will run counter to the instructions found in Scripture. Which means that basically, the Bible is a series of books where human beings hear things they absolutely don’t want to hear.
Adam and Eve had it all, but they didn’t want to hear about the prohibition against eating the fruit of just one tree in a garden of thousands. Abraham could not have been thrilled with the instruction of tying his only son to a sacrificial altar. Moses was positively convinced there were better equipped leaders, certainly better public speakers than he, to lead an entire people out of bondage. Jonah had decidedly strong opinions regarding God’s lack of sound judgment in suggesting that he, Jonah, should go to the troublesome people of Nineveh and talk religion to them.
New Testament personages don’t fare much better when it comes to head-shaking due to inconvenient or difficult teachings, even those that came directly from the mouth of Jesus. Men could not have been overjoyed at Jesus’ confirmation of the sanctity of marriage or in his insistence they even manage their thoughts about the opposite sex lest they fall into sin.
And in a world — whether ancient, modern, or future — whose brokenness will always bend toward vengeance and human constructs of justice, forgiveness of enemies had to go over about as well as Jesus’ insistence that the meek were to inherit the earth.
Even the apostles were not immune from hearing things they either did not fully understand at first, such as when Jesus spoke about his coming into glory, or heard things they completely understood and were completely horrified.
St. Peter was shocked and scandalized upon hearing Jesus’ plan of action regarding his return to Jerusalem and the pain, suffering, and death that awaited him there. St. Peter’s argument against Jesus’ plan went rather badly for him.
So here we are in Lent, the season of the year when we are urged — if it has been longer than it should — to kneel in the dark and speak directly to God about our miserable deviances from grace and holiness and sanctify our penance. Ouch.
It’s a season that has no library of catchy songs, no radio stations pause their regularly scheduled formats to play 24 hours of dirges and odes to a good confession. I don’t think we are going to be seeing a Hallmark Channel dedicated to fasting, abstinence, and penance anytime soon. If Disney was going to make an animated feature about Lent, rest assured that in the first story conference an entertainment executive would have insisted, “That whole Good Friday thing has got to go.”
Now, Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” made a strong case for the relevancy of the Good Friday “thing,” but I think this more an exception that proves the rule. And the rule is, we want Christmas 365 days a year; just ask the Hallmark Channel.
Like most of our biblical forebears (the Blessed Mother the shining exception here), we continue to hear messages from God and his Church that we don’t want to hear. And we continue to argue against them or ignore them altogether at our spiritual peril. But like Cain, we can run but we can’t hide. Good Friday comes to us all in one form or another. And Good Friday comes for Jesus at the end of every Lent, even if his human nature would have wanted it otherwise.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that before you get to Good Friday, you need Christmas. And although for the secular worlds of ancient, modern, and future times Christmas is enough, it is not so with God. Thankfully, God’s calculus is not our own and in the Divine plan, Christmas plus Good Friday equals Easter.