It’s Lent, so in this season of penance I have a confession: I don’t like show tunes. Hate is a strong word so I won’t use it to describe how I feel about those songs from Broadway musicals that I … dislike. And with that, God chuckles.
Why? Because He had the wisdom to endow my two daughters with prodigious talent to sing and dance and act in roles for an increasing number of shows for their school and theater camps, and any occasion on any stage they find. So show tunes fill my house, and God laughs.
Lately one of them rang in my ears and for some reason, led me deeper, so I followed the impulse and thought more about it. The song was “Getting to Know You.”
At Lent Christians are called at times to fast in order to getting to know ourself. We’re called to give our money or time to get to know someone else with needs. We’re called to pray to get to know God.
We think we already know all of the above. But we’re supposed to discover them all anew, as for the first time, with the wonderment of a child. “Unless you become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus once said.
That’s not easy to do, so our Lord uses stories to make the lessons go down easier. Jesus rolls out a dandy of a story in the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Lent.
The story of the Prodigal Son has it all. Put yourself in the sandals of the prodigal – literally, one who “drives away” (pushing away others, or yourself being pushed away?) by extravagantly squandering what one has been given. You know your brother and all the estate’s servants; they’re there for your enjoyment, to be taken for granted. You know the father as merely the source of riches, giver of the high life.
Only when it’s all gone do you come to know yourself through the school of hard knocks and its stern teacher, hunger. You come to know yourself.
With nothing left but a full helping of humility, you go back home to know again your father, the source of mercy and love. He gives more than you expect, even running out – not walking – to practically tackle you with joy.
You get to know again those servants and others in the household. Only this time instead of using them, you enjoy life with them, not at their expense. Now this is living.
In the story we don’t know if the brothers ever reconciled. We know the younger brother has had a conversion of heart. But even after the father has a heart-to-heart chat with the peeved older brother, is his heart softened, reconciled to his little brother?
We don’t know. But like all good stories, what is unresolved draws us in deeper without having to wrap up the loose ends.
That is what the coming Passion of Christ during Holy Week is all about. Of course we know how the story ends. Every year Easter Sunday comes and we relive the resurrection. But on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we wallow in that mystery of humiliation, rejection, pain – and death too.
We are getting to know Jesus’s suffering again as when we first heard this story. We are facing these human realities in our own lives again. We think of how in our lives others have run from us, strangers have humiliated us; how we’ve borne crosses with our own name on them, and perhaps carry them still.
During Lent we’ve come to know this Jesus and His all-merciful, all-loving Father. So we know the pain of Jesus’ crucifixion and death yield to glory with the Father. We have hope that’s how our story can end too. It’s a story we have to let sink in our hearts this month in order to sing in full voice at Easter.
Thankfully for me anyway, those Easter hymns won’t sound much like show tunes. Though I have to admit, on occasion they are good for reflection. Even the title of the show from which the song I mentioned in the beginning of this piece is taken: “The King and I.” God laughs, and I get it.