Homily for 4th Sunday of Lent 2007

I am a bit disappointed with Lent! Or perhaps I should say I am disappointed with my response to Lent. Year by year we make the journey. Where is the "new creation" Paul speaks of for those who are "in Christ" (See Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Where is the new life in me?

It has been said that in Lent we grow by dying. At this time it is good to reflect on the parable of the two sons in the Gospel for today (Luke 15:1-3). Parable has a double focus: the mercy of God to repentant sinners, contrasting with God's openness with the closed mindedness of those who consider themselves faithful. Jesus speaks of two groups of people: Tax collectors and sinners and the Pharisees and scribes.

In the parable the younger son is certainly no angel. He is pretty self centred wasteful with his inheritance and leading an immoral life. Even his change of heart has less than perfect motives. He is broke and he is hungry! Many parents have the experience of a child ringing home when they have run out of money. Nevertheless, that motive was enough. He does return and experiences the joy and love of his father.

The elder son is certainly faithful, never disobeying his father. But his is a closed and passionless devotion to duty. He even gets to the point of seeing himself as but a slave not a son. He says to his father "I have slaved for you." He seems to refuse his father's love for him choosing to live with resentment at his brother. He needs to learn compassion. But Jesus does not tell us the elder son's final decision. Did he come in to the celebration or not?

Both sons are in need of repentance.

Jesus' parable is addressed to the Pharisees and scribes who were critical that Jesus was tolerant of, and ate with, tax collectors and sinners, people like the younger son. A sinner for the Pharisees was someone who did not keep all the prescriptions of the Law. Jesus did not mention them by name but the Pharisees and scribes were certainly aware that Jesus was comparing them with the elder son in the parable. They were good people. They were faithful to the Law. Yet they missed the heart of the matter. In not telling how the elder son ultimately responded to his fathers invitation, Jesus is leaving open the choice for the Pharisees and scribes. He is putting a challenge to them. How will they respond?

Jesus had no trouble with life's failures, like tax collectors and sinners. It was with the hypocrites that he lost his temper. Lent asks the question, how much of the truth about yourself are you willing to face?

We can put ourselves in the shoes of each of the sons and the father in our imagination. Like the younger son we have our dreams and desires we would like to take up. What are they? Are they real or possible given our present choice in life? Some people go through life clinging to impossible desires afraid to let them go in case we lose hope. Maybe it was a missed opportunity to marry someone. Yet unless we let these desires go our present life may be lived at a shallow level. On the other hand we can be like the elder son. So assured of our position, very earnest in what we do that we can become hardened in our hearts so that any growth in compassion and understanding is difficult. Here, too, we cling to our self made image, lest in opening out to others and God we might lose our hard fought life. Both the older and younger son in us need conversion.

To avoid doing that we can just increase our religious activities during Lent. Unfortunately we can easily equate such activity with growth in holiness. We can be afraid to take any step deeper because it is unknown. What might we find? Maybe we will discover God asking something of us.

Or we can continue our usual routine and avoid any growth at all. All that is a waste if we are not prepared to make the sacrifice, the dying to our own egos so that we recognise the "daily untruthfulness of our lives" in so many ways. Like the elder son we need to be able to let go, die a little to ourselves so God can embrace us, so we can embrace one another. Only then can we be saved by God.

Fr Graham