Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

March 27, 2022
Most Holy Trinity Carmel
Arlington, Texas

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

In today’s Gospel from Luke, we find Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and engaged in a discussion with the scribes and Pharisees. They are watching for Him to make a mistake and find a reason to condemn Him since He welcomes sinners and eats with them. So, Jesus responds by telling them a parable.

A thoughtless and ungrateful son asks his father for his inheritance and leaves home to squander it. Once destitute, he realizes the error of his way, regrets his decision, finds himself without hope, and takes a chance on returning home. He builds up courage to ask for forgiveness and hopes that his father will be able to forgive him. But his father’s response overwhelms him. The wayward son had been rehearsing his speech, but his father takes the initiative, running to his son and embracing him. The father’s forgiveness overflows.

The older brother does not understand his father’s enthusiasm … the robe, the ring, the banquet. He gets angry with his father and demands what he feels is owed to him. He refuses to share in his father’s joy and can find no room in his heart to accept his brother. We begin to question which son is really the true prodigal. As Pope Benedict XVI observed several years ago, “The two sons represent two immature ways of relating to God: rebellion and childish obedience. Both these forms are surmounted through the experience of mercy. Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love, a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit, do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.”

Jesus’ point to the scribes and Pharisees is God’s unrelenting love and unquestioning mercy. If we, like the religious leaders around Jesus, fail to understand freely given and unearned love, we fail to understand Jesus and His message. If we change the Gospel into a set of obligations, regulations, and external rules, then we begin to think we can earn God’s love. Love can never be earned. This is the mistake of the older brother, who feels he has earned his father’s love and has no need of forgiveness. As Saint Therese would clarify for us many years into the future, “You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.”

Sometimes like the wayward son, we are very aware of our sins; sometimes like the older son we feel justified before God, having few or no sins and needing no forgiveness. This, of course, is the far greater scandal. Lent invites us honestly to name our sins and humbly to ask God’s forgiveness. This is a parable about realizing our sin, seeking forgiveness, and being forgiven. But it is also about forgiving because Saint Paul reminds us today that we are ambassadors for Christ and ministers of His forgiveness and mercy. That means that the character in the parable that we must absolutely imitate is the father.

God also today throws a banquet for us prodigals. He invites us to the Banquet of the Eucharist, the Sacrifice of His own Body and Blood. He nourishes us for eternal life. Are we willing to trust Him and enter the banquet hall, or are we too attached to our own resentments and need to forgive others to be nourished at this banquet? Lent is the time for us to leave outside our resentments and sins and enter into the celebration that the Father has prepared for us through the gift of His own Son.

%d bloggers like this: