10 March 2013 – 4th Sunday of Lent – Year C
Joshua 5:9, 10-12; II Corinthians 5:17-21; Psalm 34; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
I am sure that all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, can sympathize with the younger son in the Gospel lesson. We, too, have squandered our inheritance. His, however, was only money, our inheritance is the glory of the children of God, radical freedom in the salvation of Christ, the image and likeness of God in which we are made, and the fellowship of the Body of Christ in the kingdom of God. And we have used this Divine patrimony to feed our senses, indulge our passions, dull our consciences and harden our hearts. The young man comes to his senses in a pigsty, starving, filthy, cold, lonely. Where we are when we come to our senses doesn’t matter, what matters is that we realize, as he did, we can go home. Home to the Father who loves us, home to the Father who is waiting for us, home to the Father who will run to meet us in joy and forgiveness. Scripture says that the angels rejoice when one who was lost is found. If we are lost, we can be found, we can go home to God. But what happens then? We are not told the after story of our Gospel lesson. What happens to the younger son, how does he amend his life, how does he cope with his resentful older brother, with losing his inheritance, with the effects of his unhealthy living and self-indulgence? What happens to us when we come to our senses, repent and desire to amend our lives? There is a saying, “The reward for hard work and responsibility is more hard work and greater responsibility.” There could be another, “The reward for repentance and amendment is more repentance and amendment.” Once we have come to our senses we have to stay there, and that is a lot of hard work. Maintaining humility, repentance, forgiveness, mercy and charity toward others requires constant vigilance. Controlling our passions, choosing the good and trusting God at all times and in all things, requires constant recollection. There may be times when we look back with longing toward the quiet of the pigsty, like the Israelites looked back on Egypt. Is it worth it, is the constant struggle against our fallen nature and rebellious will worth it? The fact that we are here says that we have decided that it is. That our life with God, our life in the Church, our life as the Body of Christ in the world is worth whatever sacrifice we need to make to keep it.
St. Paul writes, in our second lesson, “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation.” We are a new creation. In our Baptism we are made anew in the image of Christ, and are given the Holy Spirit to empower us to live this new life. We have been changed and we no longer fit the pattern of our old life, but sometimes it takes us a while to realize this and we keep trying to fit our new life into our old behaviors, new wine in old wineskins, and it doesn’t fit and it leaks out and makes a mess. It isn’t easy to be an ambassador for Christ while standing in a puddle of wine. It is hard to realize that we can be an effective witness for Christ when our lives are in such a muddle, but whose life isn’t? And if others can see us clinging to Christ, standing firm on our faith, even if our life is a shipwreck, then that IS an effective witness. Nobody can learn anything from perfect people living perfect lives, if any such people even exist. Our witness is that of ordinary people, fallible, sinful, clumsy, inarticulate – praising God, loving God and our neighbor in the midst of the mess we have made. No matter how long we have been a Christian, no matter how long or how hard we have been struggling to live a faithful Christian life, we will still, probably, stumble and fall at least once a day, if not more. And that’s OK, in fact it is almost necessary for us in order to form a truly Christian character of humility and patience. Failure is only truly failure if it causes us to despair or to quit. If we get and go on, then failure is a step on the journey to Theosis. The younger son, in his failure to find a fulfilling life in spending his money on pleasure, fell into the pigsty – but this proved to be his salvation, for he got up and went home to his Father. There is no fall so great that we cannot also get up and go our Father, there is no fall so great that we cannot get up and just keep trying, however stumblingly we do so. Very few people, if any, march in a straight line into the Kingdom of God with no detours. Most of us, probably, trip over our own feet and fall in.
Like the Father in the Gospel lesson, God loves us no matter how grievously we have sinned, no matter how far we have run away from him. Our decision to come home and our struggle to remain there, is not done to try and earn that love, we know it is a gift, but to express our love for God. To show our gratitude, our devotion, our desire to be his children.
So we should not despair if we have failed to be the people we strive to be, if we fail to live with grace, courage, compassion or forbearance – we need to just get up out of the puddle and stumble on, we know the way, we are going home.
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