5th Sunday of Lent C
She comes captured by a mob. She comes alone although they claim that she has been caught with another. Her life is on the line. She is not the object of her accuser’s ire. If it had been only about her actions they would not have brought her before this obscure Rabbi, Jesus. She is only a pawn in a scheme to entrap Jesus. But that does not make her situation any different. Her life is in the hands of this one intercessor, this teacher, this stranger.
They come to place Jesus in a quandary. To find a reason to charge him with a crime against his own religion. Their means may be this woman but their target is Jesus. They are planning on the demise of both. They come to test him. “This woman,” they say, “has been caught in the very act. …
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I am the oldest in my family. Almost anyone who meets me guesses that before they learn the truth! So the gospel story of the Prodigal Son has always been a bit of a challenge for me. I’ve always identified with the older brother and struggled with the justice of the “compassionate father’s” approach to the prodigal younger son.
But in the last couple of years, as I‘ve gotten older, I’ve started to think a bit differently. I expect that this change has also coincided with a change in the dynamics of my family…my father has died, my mother became rather frail and now resides in a nursing home…and the younger siblings have all been pretty involved in the challenges of the new reality of our being middle aged, adult children.
Which brings me back to the gospel story. I have to say that through this life and family journey I’ve been reminded in many ways of the frailty of all of us. Our father died when he shouldn’t have, our mother has in essence given up….we are all seeking to continue to live meaningful lives…and I have made many missteps along the way. It is hard for me to say that…but it is true. As the cliché goes…I know so much less now that I am older than I used to know.
And so, I hear the gospel story a little differently now. I admit I still feel a bit badly for the older son, but I also feel more compassion for the younger son who tried to have an independent life (even if he went about it in a young person’s headstrong way). And I don’t find the father’s welcoming spirit quite so surprising or aggravating anymore. I find it rather comforting. I wonder if that is because as I’ve tried, with my brother and sisters, to navigate the demands of responsibility and caring, I’ve stumbled and lost my way. But time and time again, I’ve been comforted by a quiet voice that encouraged me, reminded me that I was not alone…and reminded me that if I just recognized it, I had the greatest support and guidance possible as I walk this windy road of life.
That is how our God, the compassionate father, has helped me, an older sister, grow in the understanding that I’m not that different from the younger brother in this story….and that I really do rely on God’s love and support each and every day!
Father Bob’s Homily 4th Sunday of Lent
4th Sunday of Lent Year C
We have just heard the story of the Prodigal Son what is possibly considered the greatest story of forgiveness in the Bible. And I hate to burst your balloon, but I actually believe that is not really a story of forgiveness at all. My evidence? No one says they are sorry and no one offers forgiveness. Instead, I think it centers on a far more integral action: compassion. Yes, compassion will include the grace of the forgiveness but it promises so much more. It means anticipating needs, reaching out, surrender and above all love. The Compassionate father is perfect model of God’s free, incandescent love. Our Lenten challenge then is to embrace the gift of compassion.
And one way to learn about compassion is to focus on the two sons who lacked it. I admit that I am always too hard on the…
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5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C
Let us pray [for the courage to follow Christ]…
Help us to be like Christ your Son,
Who loved the world and died for our salvation.
Inspire us by his love,
Guide us by his example,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever. AMEN
1st Reading — Isaiah 43: 16-21
The author of 2nd Isaiah referred to the Babylonian captivity as similar to the exodus event, The exiles were awaiting their release in an alien land. Isaiah is reminding them of how God had saved them in history, and would surely do so again. Thus, through their remembering, God would continue to be present to them, (Birmingham, W&W, p. 170). How does this speak to you?
2nd Reading — Philippians 3: 8-14
Paul was concerned over the philosophies that were threatening to undermine the gospel. Judaizers and Gnostics were coming at the gospel from 2 different threatening positions. Judaizers were trying to impost their old legalisms on the new gentiles: all must be circumcised, all must adhere to strict dietary regulations, etc. Gnostics, on the other hand, believed that a person was perfectly “just” simply because of baptism; baptism was all that was necessary. For Paul, justice is only realized through Jesus and oyr faith is his saving power. Justice, like an unfinished race, was not yet perfected and is still in process (Birmingham, W&W, p. 171). How are you still in process? How might the extremes in your life be smoothed out in Christ?
Notice that we are not called to perfection…we will never get there in this life. We are called to continue our pursuit in Christ with great hope! As in Thomas Merton’s prayer, “…the fact that I think that I am following your will does not meanthat I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.”
The Gospel — John 8: 1-11:
In the eyes of the Jewish law adultery was a serious crime. Adultery was one of the 3 gravest sins, up there with idolatry and murder. But the Pharisees and scribes are trying to entrap Jesus. Instead of answering their question of what to do with the adulterous woman, Jesus writes in the ground. Why does he doe this? Wm. Barclay has 4 hypotheses:
- He may have wanted to gain time and bring it to God.
- He may have been trying to allow time for the Pharisees and scribes to realize the cruelty behind the action.
- He may have wanted to hide his face because he felt such shame in their request. “It may well be that the leering, lustful look on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, the bleak cruelty in their eyes, the prurient curiosity of the crowd, the shame of the woman, all combined to twist the very heart of Jesus in agony and pity, so that he hid his eyes, “ (Barclay, The Gospel of John Vol. 2, p.3).
- An Armenian manuscript translates this passage this way, “He himself, bowing his head, was writing with his finger on the earth to declare their sins; and they were seeing their several sins on the stones, (p.3).
There are still those who regard a position of authority as giving them the right to condemn and the duty to punish. They think that such authority has given them the right to be moral watch-dogs trained to tear the sinner to pieces; but all true authority is founded on sympathy. When George Whitefield saw the criminal on the way to the gallows, he uttered the famous sentence: “There, but for the grace of god, go I, “(p.5).
God uses his authority to love men and women into goodness; to God no person ever becomes a thing. We must use such authority as we have always to understand and always at least to try to mend the person who has made the mistake; as we will never even begin to do that unless we remember that every man and woman is a person, not a thing (p. 6). How does this all pertain to you in your life?
Let us pray:
Christ, help us become what we receive:
forgiven, may we forgive.
uncondemned, let us throw down our stones.
Christ, you are God’s constant gift to us, always present, ever-new.
You are the glorious within our hum-drum everyday lives.
You are the water in the desert; a river in the wasteland of our lives.
Let us drink deeply of your presence and quench our thirst. Amen.
Do you ever feel like you have too many expectations? Maybe there are too many balls in the air? Forgot to take a juggling class? Sometimes either we expect too much from ourselves, or others expect too much from us. It can be maddening at times. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. Sometimes it feels like we can’t give anything our complete attention.
Now, I’m not talking about shirking responsibility. It is good to work hard and see the fruit of your effort. A little stress is healthy. It keeps you moving forward. I’m talking about a weight of stuff. A to-do list gone crazy. Like one more thing might put you over the edge. We’ve all been there, right? What are we to do with all these expectations?
Learn from St. Paul! Paul said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective, ” (I Corinthians 15:10). I always think of Popeye when I read this. “I yam what I yam!” But Paul speaks such truth. We can only be who we are. Thanks be to God! That is all God wants from us. God only wants us to be God’s beloved children. That is it. If we get that, the rest feels easier. Knowing this gives us the strength to do the rest of it. God’s only expectation of us is to love God. He even gives us the ability to do it. Allow God’s love in, and God will fulfill all of your expectations.
So next time you are feeling overwhelmed, keep this song in mind!
Let us pray:
Thank you for reckless and excessive love.
Just yesterday in the desert, manna and water were spilling out of control.
Today we have heaps of grain, goodness and love,
calming our day-to-day life.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be,
you give us Your Son.
Help us lavish love like yours, without heed, upon each other.
1st Reading — Joshua 5: 9-12:
The Israelites have finally arrived to the Promised Land. The manna has ended, they are eating from the produce of the land, and they are celebrating Passover. The feast of Passover recalls the last plague visited on Egypt, the plague that resulted in the Israelites escape. A terrible illness killed the first born of the Egyptians, but the angel of death “passed over” the homes of the Israelites. This story is not just about the end of an era but God’s faithfulness to God’s promises (Workbook for Lectors, p. 84). How does this reading prepare us for the Gospel?
The road to joy winds through some pretty unlikely places. Here in this reading, the Hebrews stop to celebrate Passover. But if you go to the beginning of the chapter you will see that “the reproach of Egypt” that has been removed is the reinstating of circumcision. It seems that such a practice has been stopped during the 40 years in the desert. This ‘rite’ might have made them too vulnerable to attack during this traveling time – but now as they ready to enter the Promised Land Joshua insists that all the males obey this sign of the covenant. Perhaps the extra wine of celebration would help ease the pain of such a rite! (From “Exploring the Sunday Readings”, March 2010)
Manna is considered a type of Eucharist. This reading tells us that the manna ceased when the 1st Passover was celebrated in the Promised Land. So too, the Eucharist will cease when it finds its fulfillment in the messianic banquet of the kingdom of God (liurgy.slu.edu, March 14, 2010).
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21
It was the tax collectors and sinners that drew near to Jesus. Think about how hard that might have been for them to draw near. Especially with the Pharisees right there, judging them. What would you do?
We are called to be “ambassadors for Christ”. What do you make of this?
How can we be the righteousness of God? The word ambassador in Greek is presbeutes. It was a person that was directly commissioned by a king or ruler. Paul is using it here to help us understand that we are commissioned to bring God’s terms of mercy and love to sinners so that they can be welcomed into the family of God. (Preaching Resources, March 2004)
Paul’s comments fit so well with the Gospel story. As new creations in Christ we are to offer to others the same love and forgiveness that has been offered to us. Selfishness and self-righteous attitudes do not lead to joy, to celebration. Such a lonely road leads to isolation and misery. (From “Exploring the Sunday Readings”, March 2010)
But being a new creation is not an assured possession! It is something that must constantly be worked at. To renew that status is the work of the apostolic ministry – the “ministry of reconciliation,” as Paul calls it (liturgy.slu.edu, March 14, 2010)
The Gospel — Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
This is one of Jesus’ most powerful and best known parables. With which character do you identify?
From Living Liturgy, 2004:
This parable reveals the dying and rising of the paschal mystery at work. The prodigal son is brought to repentance because he is in dire need; he is “dying from hunger.” There is nothing he does to deserve the father’s response except return. Yet, his decision to repent (turn from death) is met with warm, welcoming love and feasting – at least from the father. For all of us, the invitation to repent is always there – to turn from dying-ways to new life and feasting. What can bring us – and the elder son – to the feasting?
Notice also, that sin is ‘going away to a distant land’ – it is about losing who and where we are called to be. Repentance is about ‘coming back to our senses.’ Sin is an alienation from ourselves, like the son who no longer deserves to be called his father’s son. Sin affects our relationships – with the father – and with others (the elder son). In the father, we find a love that bridges the gap.
From John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context”, http://liturgy.slu.edu :
In this culture fathers were greatly discouraged from distributing inheritance before their death. The younger son acts very shamefully by effectively wishing his father dead. The elder son is no better. He makes no effort to reconcile his father and brother as the culture demanded. When he ‘comes back to himself’ and repents, the younger son is willing to become a servant and take the rejection and physical abuse that the village will heap on him for his shameful behavior. In this, he does show some measure of honor. But then, the father acts totally out of cultural character. He runs (very inappropriate for an elder). He publicly forgives the son by kissing him, giving him the best robe (which certainly would be the father’s), putting a ring on his finger (a sign of trust), and sandals on his feet (a sign of a free man not a slave). Killing the fatted calf means that the whole village will be invited to come and accept this son and celebrate. (This size calf could feed 100 people.) And then, what does the elder son do? Instead of honoring his father’s wishes, he publicly insults and humiliates his father. Yet, the father also goes out to him (another shameful thing for the father to do). The parable ends here with the father pleading with his son . . .what did the elder son do? What would you do?
The father – God – doesn’t act the way we think he’s going to act. We can never put God in a box! There is nothing we can do that would get God to stop loving us!