4th Lenten Sunday C (14 Mar 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Excessive and Immoderate
You doubtlessly recognized strains of the Exodus in the first reading, which told of the Israelites and their renewal of the Passover. The first passover was the Passover of the Lord in Egypt. That first passover was the wonder that changed Pharaoh’s mind. As every firstborn male—human and beast—was slain as the Lord passed over Egypt, their liberation began.
We met them in the first reading after they had crossed over the Jordan into the Promised Land. One of the first things they did was to renew the Passover meal. By doing that they renewed their identity as that people the Lord chose as peculiarly his own.
Our Passover is Messiah Jesus, the New Passover of our creator and redeemer. Our identity is in Christ, to use St. Paul’s phrase. We are baptized into our Messiah, and we live through him, with him, in him.1 Our Passover in Christ has concrete consequences. Ash Wednesday reminded us of two of them with these very words from St. Paul: one, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us to each person and every corner of creation; and two, we become the righteousness of God in him, our Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God.
We may phrase God’s appeal this way: How is the Trinity sending us as ambassadors for our Messiah in our relationships? How is Lent helping you respond more freely to the Trinity sending you as ambassadors of our Messiah in your relationships? The consequences of being in Christ are concrete. We recognize them when we gaze gently and reverently at our worlds and our relationships.
The familiar—perhaps too familiar—parable of the prodigal father and his two sons is appropriate for us. Jesus presented a network of relationships almost everyone can relate to on some level; often on more than one. The network involves God and God’s lavish concern, particularly for the lost; it involves one lost or wayward, who is physically distant from home, and one, who is lost in one’s home. The first verses are key.
Tax collectors and sinners—lost to their own people and to themselves—were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes—law worshipers and religious professionals who did not “walk their talk,” who were lost without knowing it—began to complain, saying that Jesus welcomes and communes with sinners. So to them Jesus addressed his parable.
In it Jesus disclosed what God is like. Like the father of the two sons, God is prodigal with divine love: lavish; extravagant; excessive; immoderate. With God, who is love, no moderation exists.
In the parable Jesus disclosed what humans are like. Like the younger son we grasp greedily, and we flee. Like the older son we stay yet are not present to love offered. The father bore the insult of the younger son’s demand for what would be his—before his father had died. The father not only respected that son’s wish, he also respected his freedom. When the older son refused to enter the celebration for his brother’s safe return, their father went out to him.
As we accompany Jesus closer to Jerusalem in Lent, we allow ourselves to let the Trinity reach out to us with utmost patience, respect and loving kindness in our Messiah Jesus. In doing so, We become the righteousness of God in him.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, allow the Trinity to reach out to you and savor the patient ways our Triune God respects you. Ask your patron saint to present you to Jesus. Simply be in Jesus’ presence, holding a crucifix to help you, or the icon of Jesus’ Sacred Heart parishioners have in our homes. Ask for the grace you need: to return to Jesus so you may live more courageously through him, with him, in him; or to go out as Jesus’ courageous ambassador of his faith, hope and love. Close saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. It’s phrase, lead us not into temptation, also expresses our desire not to grasp greedily and flee from Jesus’ loving care; and our desire to resolve to extend ourselves to others when that causes us to feel uncomfortable.
1. The phrase begins the doxology closing each eucharistic prayer in the Roman Missal.
Wiki-image of The Return is in the public domain.