4th Sunday of Lent. March 10, 2013.
Joshua 5:9,10-12; 2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
God is good!!!
One popular slogan goes like this, “God is good… all the time!! All the time …God is good!!!” How easily we repeat this slogan but do we really believe that God is good to us all the time? Before you answer yes to my question, ask yourself this question, “Do I believe that God is good to me when I sin and break His commandments? Am I convinced that God is good to me when I see the depth of sin and moral failures in my life? How firmly do I believe that God is good to me when I repeatedly do the evil that I want to overcome despite all my good resolutions in life? Is God really good to me when my life takes a turn for the worse and crises after crises come into my life?” How can we honestly say that God is good and loving to us in such moments when sin seems to overcome and life just seems unbearable?
In 1990, sixteen years old Chris Franklin shot and killed his father and step mother in Savannah, Georgia, US and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Every one of his friends and relatives abandoned him except his mother who vowed to raise her son even though he was in prison. She called him every Saturday on phone and visited him on one Sunday of the month. When she was asked why she still stood behind a boy who had brutally murdered her husband of over 20 years and caused her so much shame and regret, she replied, “Though it tears you apart, you have got to love them when they are bad and when they are good.”
This woman has what we call a compassionate heart towards her son. Though she has a deep pain in her heart because of her son’s actions and his life sentence in prison, she chooses to love him no matter what he does or does not do. She certainly does not condone her son’s actions; neither does she love her son because he is good or because he does good things. Her compassion has led her to willingly share in his pain and to seek to alleviate it by her presence and support. With a compassionate heart, she still loves her incarcerated son despite the pain he has caused her.
This is why we can say and believe that God is good all the time and all the time God is good. God is good all the time because He is a compassionate God. He is not good to us because we are good or because we do good. He is good to us whether we are good or bad, whether life is pleasurable or not to us. His goodness does not depend on our own goodness or fidelity to Him. His is a goodness that feels pity for us and reaches down to us to alleviate our misery. We cannot judge or measure God’s goodness to us based on our moral uprightness or on our situations in life.
This is the message of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal son. The Pharisees and scribes begin to complain that Jesus is “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” Jesus tells them this parable of the Prodigal Son to teach them that God is compassionate, loving each and every one of His children whether they please Him or not by what they do or fail to do. Imagine the pain in the father’s heart in the parable when the younger son said to him, “Give me a share in the estate that should come to me.” It is like saying, “I cannot wait for you to die so that I can get my inheritance.” And yet, despite this pain, the father waits for this son to return. The son returns wretched, hungry, and haggard. But “when the father caught sight of him, he was filled with compassion” for his son. The son returns not because his words and actions had hurt the father. He only returned to the father because “he was dying of hunger.” Yet again the father does not condemn him for his poor motive for returning. He does not treat him like a slave because he squandered his property and betrayed his love for him. From a compassionate heart filled with pain because of the son’s pitiful situation, the father treats him as a son, putting a ring on his finger, sandals on his feet, new robe on him and a feast with the fattened calf. When the elder, dutiful but resentful, and faithful son refuses to enter the house, the father again leaves the comfort of the house to plead with this son to enter in and join the celebration. Though both sons lived in their father’s house they never realized the compassion in the heart of their father. The father is good always because he is compassionate to all His children. He loves the son who wasted his wealth and caused him so much pain as much as he also loves the son who remained at home serving him faithfully. His love for them is not based on what they do or what they do not do.
The reading from the book of Joshua recounts the arrival of the Israelites in the Promised Land. Remember who the Israelites are and how they behaved from the moment that they were freed from the bondage of Egypt. They rebelled, complained, grumbled, disobeyed and even made a molten calf and worshipped it as the god that brought them out of Egypt. Yet, our compassionate God continued to be good to them, feeding them with the miraculous manna until they arrived in the Promised Land. His goodness to them was not dependent on their own fidelity to Him. He continued to feed with manna until they arrived in the Promised Land and “on the day that they ate of the fruit of the land, the manna ceased.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God is indeed good all the time to us because He is a compassionate God whose goodness to us is not dependent on our fidelity to Him or the state of our lives here on earth. We cannot measure His goodness to us from our moral states or from our situations in life. The only way that we can show that we truly believe that God is good all the time is to live a life of continuous repentance and unwavering faith. This is the appropriate way to respond to His unceasing goodness to us. We must never give up on repentance from sin and from believing in Him. Ours must constantly be the words and attitude of the prodigal son, “I shall get up from here and go to my father.” This compassionate father lovingly awaits us in the sacrament of confession to clothe us with our dignity as God’s beloved children.
In what ways have we found ourselves saying such things as; “How can God forgive me for my sins? My sins are too big and too many for Him to forgive me. My life is a big mess; surely God cannot still love me.” In the face of such negative thoughts, we must remind ourselves that God is always good to us by virtue of His compassion alone and not by virtue of our goodness. Only a life of continuous repentance and unwavering faith is an appropriate response to God’s continued goodness to us.
It is our Lord Jesus Christ alone who shows us the compassionate heart of the Father. In Jesus Christ, we have become “a new creation.” We have become God’s beloved children only because “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them.” God did not reconcile us to Himself because we were good. We are one with Him as His children only because of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, our compassionate God has stooped down to become one like us to share in our misery and to raise us up to become children of God. We now have access to all that is in Jesus Christ. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we can truly say that God is good to us all the time.
In the case of the Israelites, God remained good to them throughout their difficult and rebellious journey through the wilderness. He showed His faithfulness to them by feeding them with manna throughout their journey until they ate the produce of the Promised Land. Jesus Christ, our compassionate God, despite the pains in His own heart for our sins, likewise shows us His own goodness in the face of our struggles and infidelities by feeding us with the ultimate manna, His precious body, blood, soul and divinity in Holy Communion.
Let us receive Him in this Eucharistic sacrifice with love and gratitude. Let us live lives of continuous repentance and unwavering faith. We turn with confidence to our dear Mother Mary who never doubted God’s goodness to her all the time despite all her trials and pains in life, especially at those dark moments at the foot of the cross. We pray that she bestow on us this unwavering faith and constant repentance so that we too shall believe and know for sure that indeed God is good all the time not because we are good but because He is a truly compassionate God.