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Friday, 4 March 2016

Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent Year C By Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, CSSp

Joshua 5:9, 10-12,   2 Corinthians 5:17-21,       Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

On the Gospel – Who is Better?

What is the difference between a crisp $20 bill and a soiled and rumpled $20 bill? A preacher showed his congregation a crisp $20 bill and asked who wants it. All hands went up. Then he crumpled it in his palms and asked who still wanted it. Again all hands went up. Lastly he threw it on the ground, marched on it and repeated his question. Still the hands went up. Then he explained to them that the difference between a new, crisp $20 bill and a rumpled and soiled $20 in our eyes is the difference between a good person and a bad person in the sight of God. Both are equally acceptable. Basically both stand equal before God "since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Henri Nouwen says it differently: "We are all handicapped; some are more visibly handicapped than others."

Today's gospel is the family story of a man and his two sons. At the beginning of the story we see that the younger son is the bad boy and the elder son the good boy. But by the end of the story we see that both of them in different ways prove themselves to be obstacles to the family unity and harmony which the father desired more than anything.

The problem begins with the younger son. Without waiting for his father to die he asks for his share of the inheritance. Then he abandons his duties and responsibilities in the family estate and goes abroad to live a life of fun. His reckless lifestyle drains his fortunes and he finds himself reduced to abject poverty and misery. That a Jewish prince like him should condescend to feeding pigs, which Jews regard as unclean animals, shows the depths of degradation in which he finds himself. A life of sins quickly enough leads people to a situation where they lose all sense of shame and decency. But no matter how far sinners stray from the father's house, the loving heart of the father always follows them, gently whispering in their hearts, "Come home! Come home!" Our wild, fun-loving sinful youngster has one thing going for him: he is not too proud to go back and say, "I have erred; I am sorry." And this is precisely what he decides to do.

How his heart would be pounding as he approaches his father's house, not knowing whether his father would take him back or not! "But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him" (Luke 15:20). The young man begins to read his prepared confession but his father is so overjoyed he does not listen.

But the father said to his slaves, "Quickly, bring out a robe -- the best one -- and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate (verses 22-24).

At this point the story shows us the flaws of the good elder brother. Instead of rejoicing that his brother who was presumed lost has come back, he is angered by the fact that their father has received him back with a celebration. In anger he distances himself from his own family and from the party. As he leaves he mutters to himself, "This is unfair. This is unfair" – a word that is often used to justify anger, intolerance, self-righteousness and violence. In so doing the "good" elder brother brings disunity to the father's house and sorrow to himself. The sins of those who are not good enough (younger brother) as well as the sins of those who are too good (elder brother) are equally obstacles in the realisation of unity and harmony in the father's house.

We are all sinners. Whether your sins are more visible like those of the younger son or more hidden like those of the elder son, the message for us today is that we all need to repent and return to the father's house. The younger son needs to turn back from his frivolous lifestyle and return to the father's house and be a responsible and obedient son. The elder son needs to turn back from anger and resentment and learn to share the house with the apparently undeserving younger brother.

After teaching her Sunday school kids about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, a teacher asked them: "Now tell me: Who suffered the most in the story?" A child raised her hand and answered, "the fatted cow." Absolutely! Next to the fatted calf comes the elder son who remained outside while the party went on inside. He did not even taste the fatted calf that he had helped to raise. All because he stuck to his own ideas of fairness and justice and failed to see that the father's ways are not our ways. Thank God!

On the Epistle – Ambassadors For Christ 

Everyone knows the popular story of the conversion of St Augustine of Hippo. As a young man Augustine led a reckless and fun-loving life, like the prodigal son in the parable. He was well known in the brothels of downtown Rome. Then came his conversion and everything changed. The story is told that one day the newly converted Augustine was passing through the part of town in which one of the brothels he used to visit was located and one of his former mistresses spotted him. She came after him calling, “Augustine, Augustine, it’s me!” Augustine took a quick look at his former companion and temptation flooded his soul. Reminding himself of his new status as a Christian, he took to his heels, running and calling back, “It’s not me! It’s not me!” “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Christians today do not often see themselves as different from the rest of humankind. But not Paul and Augustine. For them there is a radical difference between Christians and the rest of humanity. Paul captures that difference in one word, reconciliation. Christians are reconciled humanity. The importance of reconciliation is based on the belief that we come into this world in a state of estrangement from God. The man or woman who lives purely by natural instincts is a man or woman at odds with God. Reconciliation occurs when we abandon the rule of nature and submit ourselves to the rule of God. Then God gives us a new set of values to live by. More importantly, God transforms our nature such that we become new people able to live the new life in God. Christ is the means through whom we are reconciled to God. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ” (verse 18).

We often think of reconciliation as God overlooking the sins of our past life and restoring us to God’s favour. This is what happens when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation. But that is only one face of reconciliation. Reconciliation has two faces, a face looking to the past, in which we are forgiven and restored to our status as God’s beloved children, and a face looking to the future in which we are expected to share with others the good news of God’s love. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us” (verse 20). In other words, Christians are not just a reconciled people, we are also expected to be a reconciling people.

In our second reading from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Paul stresses the role of Christians as people who minister reconciliation to others. Paul teaches that God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (verse 18). As a result, we have become “ambassadors for Christ” (verse 20), Christ’s spokespersons proclaiming to the ends of the earth Christ’s invitation to all humankind, “Be reconciled to God”(verse 20).

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was addressed to the whole church in Corinth. So if you think that “ambassadors for Christ” refers only to priests and ordained ministers of the church, you are only half-correct. “Ambassadors for Christ” refers to all believers, ordained and non-ordained, men and women, young people and the young at heart. We are all ambassadors of Christ. We have no choice in the matter, so long as we have been reconciled with God. The only choice we have is what kind of ambassadors we want to be? Good ambassadors or bad ambassadors? Loyal ambassadors or disloyal ambassadors? What kind of Christ’s ambassador are you. Can you name three ways in which you are carrying out your duties as Christ’s ambassador? If you cannot, then today is a good opportunity to get alive with God.

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