Fourth Sunday of Lent
A Homily - Cycle C - 2012-2013
by Rev. Luke Dundon

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First Reading:  Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
Responsorial Psalm:  Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
Second Reading:  2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Gospel:   Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."  So to them Jesus addressed this parable: "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.'  So the father divided the property between them.  After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.  Coming to his senses he thought, 'How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."' 

So he got up and went back to his father.  While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.  He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.  His son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.  But his father ordered his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.  Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.'  Then the celebration began. 

Now the older son had been out in the field and on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.  The servant said to him, 'Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.'  He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.  He said to his father in reply, 'Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.  But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.'  He said to him, 'My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.  But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.'"

Have you ever seen a movie or read a book where the ending leaves you really wondering, HUH?!  This is one of those stories.  A son who has totally dishonored his father, squandered half of his fatherís belongings, is now being welcomed back into Dadís loving embrace.  Heís obviously learned the hard way, coming back in rags, having slept with pigs.  Heís ready to work as a slave, for he knows a universal rule that we all learned at a young age Ė you reap what you sow.  He has sown a lot of trouble, both for himself and for others, so itís time reap the payment.  Treat me like a slave, Dad . . . however, Dad will have none of that.  While the younger son is still a ways off in his humiliated homecoming, the father RUNS UP to him and HUGS him!  The same one who ruined half of his fatherís possessions, the father EMBRACES!  Is this REALLY the ending?  Is THIS how the story ends?  Does anyone have an issue with it?

I know the elder son does.  Heís been working in the fields, heís been working hard.  And then he comes back.  Oh, the troublemaker is back!  Finally came to pay for what he wasted.  And WHAT is this?!  Heís wearing Fatherís finest robe?  Heís wearing the best sandals and a fancy ring?  Just because heís BACK?!  THIS isnít reaping what heís sown!  Heís continuing to benefit from Dadís foolish generosity!  And what have *I* been given, slaving away out here . . . Why is Father loving him so much when he doesnít deserve it?  The story is cut short.  Will this elder son accept the way his Father chose to love?

Poor elder son . . . He already HAD IT, and the Father reminds him, ďSon, EVERYTHING I have is YOURS!Ē  True, the rule still holds Ė what is sown must be reaped Ė so the FATHER took the hit for the younger son.  The FATHER continues to share EVERYTHING with the older son.  The FATHER reaches out to BOTH sons so that they can be together.  He reminds BOTH sons that He has an unbreakable love for both of them, a love which is NEVER dissolved by what is DONE by THEM.

Lent can present us with some challenging lessons.  We continue to learn how much God loves us, SO MUCH that it might make our heads spin.  A couple weeks ago we heard of the story of Jesusí Transfiguration.  Deacon Thomas beautifully described the scene, with Jesus made dazzling white, a beautiful example of the Father ĎhuggingĒ his Divine Son, and how good it is that we should imitate that love with each other.  But what if it isnít that easy?  What if it isnít easy to imitate the Fatherís love for His Son, as we try to deal with each otherís own imperfections?  As we try to deal with apparent injustices?  As we see others receive honors or possessions that they donít seem to deserve?  What if itís hard to really LOVE these people, and not just imaginary people, I mean REAL family members or REAL people in the news whom we may have already condemned in our hearts?  Divine Teacher, this parable is HARD!  This lesson is hard today!  We donít ever get to see how this story ENDS!

And thatís what makes this so beautiful Ė the story empties right into our laps Ė WE are the ending of this parable, the final words are for US to write.  How can we forgive the most difficult ones?  How can we LOVE them from the HEART?  How can we embrace them like the father.  By returning back to the Heart of the Father, a heart which is found in the Sacrament of Confession.  Thereís a reason why we have that stained glass window closest to the confessional.  WE become the Son who is wandering back home . . . a short walk back to the Confessional is overwhelmed by God leaping all the way down from the infinite heights of Heaven, so EAGER He is to welcome us back!  WE become the older Son working out in the fields . . . harboring our own pre-judgments, finding it hard to FORGIVE, as the Father gently reminds us Ė IíM ready to FORGIVE you, for EVERYTHING!  And Iím ready to GIVE YOU, EVERYTHING!  Not just SOME of my love, ALL of it!  As the priest says, ďI absolve you from your sins, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,Ē we can look up at the Crucifix and be reminded Ė God reaped the hurt that we sowed!  I once read a beautiful saying Ė when we look upon Godís face, we see his glory.  When we look upon the cross, we see his heart.  Come back to the Heart of the Father this Lent and let the Father embrace you, in Confession.  Come back to Confession yet AGAIN this Lent, as our Heavenly Dad reminds us Ė everything I have is YOURS, my son, my daughter Ė welcome to the happy ending of our story!

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