Thursday, March 16, 2017

Crucifixion is Never God’s Last Word

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long tunic. When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his sons, they hated him so much that they would not even greet him… (One day his father sent Joseph out to the pasture where his brothers were watching the flocks.) So Joseph went after his brothers and caught up with them in Dothan. They noticed him from a distance, and before he came up to them, they plotted to kill him. They said to one another: “Here comes that master dreamer! Come on, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We shall then see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:3-4, 17b-20)

“When vintage time drew near, (the landowner) sent his servants to the tenants to obtain his produce. But the tenants seized the servants and one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them the same way. 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.” (Matthew 21:34-39)

The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

Several years ago, while on a Triduum retreat, I heard a moving Good Friday meditation, “When Life Comes to Nothing.” As I reflected on our Scripture readings today, that phrase echoed in my mind.

Joseph certainly must have felt like his life had come to nothing before it really even got started. One morning he woke up the adored, over-indulged youngest son of his father’s later years. By day’s end, he had for a short while been the intended victim of his brothers’ murder plot. Yes, he was still alive, but now found himself at the mercy of a caravan of Ishmaelites, who planned to make a profit by selling him into slavery.

Will I ever see my beloved dad again? Joseph wondered. My father will be totally grief-stricken if my brothers tell him I’ve been killed. Will I ever see home again? Why did my brothers do this to me? What have I ever done to make them hate me so? Were they that jealous of my special tunic? Where are these traders taking me? What will happen to me wherever I end up? I’m afraid my life might be over.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his own story in the guise of a parable. God had sent prophets to his people Israel many times over the years, none of them were well-received. Because God loved Israel, God decided, in a last ditch effort, to send his only Son into the world. But as we know, Jesus was not welcomed by the leaders of the Jews. From the first day of his public ministry, the Pharisees and elders were out to get him. He was hassled at every turn. These learned men tried every which way to entrap Jesus. Even many of his relatives rejected him, declaring him out of his mind.

Even as he told this parable, Jesus’ days were numbered. Betrayal, spiritual anguish, humiliation, torture and ultimately death on the Cross were close at hand.

The Good News is that neither of these stories is the last word. Our God can breathe life into dry bones. God can rekindle new life from the ashes of our defeats. God can take the worst of times and transform them into the best. God helped Joseph evolve from intended murder victim to one of the most powerful men in Egypt, who was then able to save his family from starvation during a famine. God took Joseph’s broken family and made them whole again. Neither was God about to let the Cross be the last word. God raised his Son from death to new life in the Resurrection!

All of us have experienced times when life seemed to have come to nothing. Maybe it was illness or grief or the loss of a job that brought us to our knees. We can fill in the blank on the circumstances for ourselves. In recent weeks I have been pondering how it must feel to an immigrant’s child to come home from school and find Mom or Dad gone, on their way to being deported, their family ripped apart.

Whatever the shape of the crosses you have borne, take time today to look back and reflect on where God has been in your life. I think you will see that God has often, albeit sometimes very slowly, transformed those crucifixion moments into occasions for new life. God truly can take the worst of times and make them into the best of times.

Sit with Jesus and thank him for being a life-giving presence in your life.

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