Over and over the parables offered us during Lent speak to the need for spring cleaning, and often less than flatteringly pinpoint a few places to look, and questions to ask ourselves—ourselves, not those we are certain are sinning more than we are. Our work in these weeks is to allow our souls to be questioned by Jesus and his Gospel.
Like the tenants of the vineyard, what tender but well-patrolled territory of the heart or mind might any of us be defending against all comers and at all cost? For some of us, life is a lot like a game of Risk, with maybe a heaping dose of Monopoly thrown in—an endless series of calculations, defensive feints, offensive campaigns, scores, accounts, debts owed or debts to be collected. It is an endless loop of getting and staying in the game and staying ahead in whatever way we suppose that consists.
What is on offer to us at this time of repentance is nothing less than freedom from the need for self-defense, but freedom by way of repentance and accurate self-appraisal. In the rule that St Benedict wrote for his monasteries, he directs that in order to obtain this freedom of heart and peace of soul his monks may disclose their sickness of conscience to the abbot or one of the spiritual elders, who, Benedict says, “know how to heal their own wounds as well as those of others without exposing them and making them public.” (RB 46:5,6).
Today is a gift of another day for some Lenten house cleaning, a day for leaving Egypt behind with its disgrace and oppression. It is a day for leaving all the carefully accumulated, remembered, tagged, and catalogued accounts behind with the pig’s food in a far country. We are invited by Jesus to put down our weapons of bluff and self-defense, to back away slowly and surrender ourselves to the profligate, lavish mercy of God. Stumbling again on this rock of Jesus cracks our shaky self-identity open, allowing us to see that we are held in being not by our own exhaustingly small efforts but by God. And that identity as “child of the Father” cannot be shaken. There is true freedom, there is true rest.