Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Do you have a favorite movie or book — one where you know how it ends but never tire of revisiting how it gets there?
The readings leading up to Holy Week are like that. We know, heading into Holy Week, what’s coming — we’re headed straight to the cross. And we know, ultimately, how that turns out — the Resurrection has the last word. But there’s an important lesson in the Old Testament pattern of how it’s supposed to go. And God reveals something to us precisely in His departure from that pattern. Yet we should never tire of revisiting that plot twist.
In this last week before Holy Week, we hear the story of Susanna from the Book of Daniel. Susanna is trapped by two wicked elders. Although innocent, she’s threatened with death for abiding by God’s law. In mortal peril, she cries out to God. And, because she’s innocent, God hears her plea. He raises up Daniel, who uncovers the falsehood of the accusers. Susanna is saved from death.
We also hear the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Because they’re faithful to God and refuse to worship the false gods of Babylon, they’re thrown into the fiery furnace. In mortal peril, they cry out to God. And, because they’re innocent, God hears their prayer. He sends an angel to protect them, and they’re saved from death.
Finally, we hear about the prophet Jeremiah. He faithfully delivers God’s message to the people who, because of their wickedness, don’t want to hear it. They contrive plots against Jeremiah, who, for his part, cries out to God — and God protects him.
Alongside these Old Testament readings, the tension is rising in the Gospels all week. The opposition to Jesus is gathering momentum and hardening. In the closing Gospel for the week, the high priest prophesies the death of Jesus, and the leaders plot that death. The death of the Innocent looms.
Based on the pattern we’ve heard all week, we have an expectation. “Oh, we know how this goes! The Innocent cries out to God. Then God steps in to save Him.” But this time, the pattern receives a new and surprising twist, and the depth of God’s love is revealed precisely in that twist!
Jesus is innocent. He’s threatened with death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He will cry out to the Father. But instead of preserving His life from the cross, the Father preserves His life through the cross. And instead of the innocent being saved from death, the guilty — that’s us — are saved.
It’s a divine rescue operation — just like the Old Testament stories. But it’s accomplished in a whole new way. God doesn’t only save the innocent. God reveals his love precisely in taking action to save the guilty.
This plot twist is similar to what happens in the Annunciation, which we celebrate on March 25. In the Old Testament, Israel had an expectation based on their history: The savior of the people would be high and mighty, a royal and military conqueror. But, in the Incarnation, we see a new and surprising twist: God — who is certainly high and mighty! — comes in lowliness to conquer death and save His people.
So often, God reveals the depth of His love for us precisely in putting a new twist on an old theme. So, rather than rushing ahead to Easter, let’s savor these days. Just as we do with a favorite movie or book, let’s not rush ahead to the end. Instead, let’s notice and appreciate how the Divine Author is getting us there — because how He does it is a revelation of his love, and we should never tire of revisiting that.