Lent is hard. Lent is meant to be a challenging and transforming time for us each year. In preparation of the paschal triduum and our remembrance of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, we enter into this time what is more-or-less an extended retreat. Our prayer, fasting, and alms-giving humbles and refocuses us. I’ve preached to you about compunction, or that piercing sorrow for sin in our hearts, about finding a new vision of Christ as we look at the brutal suffering of the Cross yet aware of the glory to follow, and about how our time here is limited a fruitful response needs to come now. I even challenged you last week that if your Lent hasn’t been fruitful for those first three weeks come back here today with something to offer God, because the Gospel had the parable of the fig tree that was barren for three years and the landowner gave it one more year to produce fruit.
Lent is hard. What God calls us to do in our lives is hard. But today we rejoice because there is more to who God is than the hardness of Lent. Apart from the mystery of what Christ accomplished on the Cross, this parable is the greatest narrative of what Jesus understood the love of God to be.
There is no question that the son sinned against his father and that he no longer deserved to be called a son. He told his father, “I wish you were dead. Give me my inheritance.” He left home so that his father would be no part of his life. He spent his money on a life of dissipation, or as his brother more bluntly puts it, on prostitutes. And he came back initially not because he realized how much he hurt his father but because he wanted food and a decent job. But before the son can say a word, the father runs to him, embraces him, and kisses him. The son protests, “I do not deserve to be called your son.” His brother in a different way protests that he deserves the joy of the father more than his younger brother.
Now here is where we start to learn who God really is. The sons are focusing on what is deserved, but not the father. In the father’s eyes, whether either of his sons deserve his love is irrelevant. He loves them because they are his sons. The faults and failings that make the younger son think of himself as undeserving and unworthy… the achievements and devotion that make the older son think of himself in contrast as deserving worthy… these things are not what the father sees in them first. The first thing the father sees is his sons. They are deserving of his love because they are his sons. Nothing they do can make them otherwise. The mercy of the father is that his love precedes and is greater than anything that the sons do or fail to do.
You are God’s creation and you have become his adopted sons and daughters through the waters of baptism in which you share in the life of His Son. This is the love and mercy that God has for you. Does that mean that what we do, or what that younger son did, no longer matters? That sin is irrelevant? No… no, of course not. When someone loves you so completely as the Father does, hurting them hurts you just as badly. Our God refuses to separate Himself from us. And His love is so great that if we despise Him and say that we don’t want to be part of Him, then with absolute heartbreak He says ok and lets us leave home. And then we find ourselves in Hell, knowing that we did to Him what He would never do to us.
I hope you are really praying this Lent. I hope you’re going to sit with this Gospel and talk about it with God and place it in your own life. God’s love is not supposed to be some phrase that you learned in second grade… it’s supposed to be a lived experience. Keep asking the Lord to know his love in all its wonder.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.