4th Sunday of Lent. March 6th 2016.
Jos 5:9,10-12; 2Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
When the celebration begins
“Then the celebration began.”
Bryan Whyte’s song, God gave me you, is arguably the most popular love song here in the Philippines today. It is a usual hit at wedding receptions and a regular feature on many radio stations. Thanks to the karaoke bar in our neighborhood, I get to hear that song several times in any given weekend, whether I want to or not, whether it is well sung or not, and at any time of the day or night.
If only we could see all that we have, all our loved ones, and sincerely say about them all, “God gave me you,” we will first of all value our relationship with God above all things and all people because we will see His love as the source of everything that we have and are. Secondly, we will let this relationship with God govern how we relate to all things and all people. Consequently, we would not easily abuse God’s gifts to us and we will treat all people with the reverence they deserve.
“God gave me you” speaks of an authentic gratitude that goes beyond gratitude for the gift received to appreciation and reverence for the Giver of the gifts and opens us to participate in the joy of the Lord. But if our gratitude is limited to the gift itself, without reaching to the One who loves us so much and whose gifts to us are expressions of His love to us, we will lack reverence for His gifts, we shall sin easily by abusing His gifts and lose the joy of the Lord.
St. Paul reminds the Corinthians in today’s Second Reading that God’s most precious gift to us is a relationship with Him through the reconciliation with Him by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” This new and gratuitous relationship with God in Jesus Christ should affect how we make use of all that God has given to us – our time, our resources, our body, heart, soul and mind. This relationship with God and also transform how we relate with others.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is addressed to the scribes and Pharisees who fail to realize that Jesus Christ “welcomes sinners and eats with them” because in Him, God is inviting us into a relationship with Him that does not depend on our gifts or talents or our faithful use of His gifts to us. Both the prodigal son and the elder brother are all about receiving something from the father but they do not give priority to the relationship with the father. Also, their relationship with the father does not touch on their desires and actions.
The younger son cannot wait for his father to die so as to get his own share of the inheritance, “Father, give me a share of your estate that should come to me.” Away from his father’s influence and “in a distant country,” he abuses and misuses his inheritance, experiences the pains of hunger and loses the dignity to the point of envying pigs and not having a share in their meal. He returns home not out of sorrow for the pain that he has caused the father but because he was hungry, “Here I am, dying from hunger.” He focuses on what to say so as to get some food from the father and not for reconciliation.
The father however does not ask about the wasted inheritance and property. For him, it is not about the gift wasted, but about the relationship forsook. He is too eager and ready to reestablish his relationship with his wasteful son through offering new gifts to him who returns home. The father also does not challenge the poor motive of his son’s return home. He simply says, “Quickly, bring the finest robe and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.” The celebration began once the relationship is reestablished not when the gifts are accounted for or the motives for return are pure.
The older son too has been longing all along to have a kid goat to feast on with his friends. He does not share in the joys of the father because he prizes his kid goat and celebration with his friends above the joys of the father. The father has to invite him to the feast to teach him the same lesson that relationship with the father should be treasured above the gifts that can be obtained from him, “My son, you are here with me always; everything that I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice.” The celebration can begin for the older son only when he places his relationship with the father over his desire for a kid goat.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how authentic is our gratitude to God for all His gifts to us? How easily do we place other gifts above the gift of the new relationship with the Father that Jesus Christ has won for us? Does our gratitude for our gifts include that sincere gratitude to the Giver of the gift that makes us use these gifts with reverence? How do we let our new relationship with God in Jesus Christ affect how we relate to all other gifts and to our relationships with others? Apart from God and His relationship with us, we run the risk of sinning by abusing His gifts to us and thus we lose the joy of the Lord though we are blessed with His gifts.
How easy it is for us to define ourselves by the blessings and gifts that we have received from God. Our spiritual and earthly life may even be focused on acquiring more gifts or being faithful to the ones that we have received from God. We may even get discouraged that we have not been as faithful as we should be to His gifts and talents to us. All in all, our own joyful celebration will begin when we let ourselves be defined more by our relationship with God in Jesus Christ than on the abundance of gifts we receive from Him or how well we make use of them.
It is noteworthy that in the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father offers reconciliation to the two sons before he invites them to a festal celebration. Likewise, there is need for us to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation before we partake in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Before we enter into the Eucharistic feast of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, we must be reconciled with God first in the sacrament of Reconciliation, allowing God to heal us of our sins from abusing His gifts to us and restoring to us the dignity that we lost through sin. The same God who reconciles us to Himself in the Sacrament of Reconciliation does so for the sake of feeding us with the ultimate gift of His very self in Holy Communion.
It is in the Eucharist that we begin to learn how to see all things as coming from God because we begin here to share in the grateful heart of Christ. Jesus entered into the Kingdom of the Father by using all that He had the way that the Father wanted Him to make use of it i.e. for the sole purpose of reconciling us to Himself. There is nothing in His person or in His possession that was used in a selfish way. Even the gift of His Mother Mary to us on the Cross is a manifestation of this authentic gratitude to the Father and His desire to bring us all into that prized relationship with the Father.
Like Jesus and with Jesus, let us be grateful to God for all His blessings and gifts to us in this life. Whether we have abundance of His gifts or not, whether we make good use of them or not, we must put relationship with Him over the gifts. Let us be most grateful for the relationship with God that Christ Jesus has won for us by His paschal mystery so that we are moved to hold on to that relationship whatever gifts we have or however faithful or unfaithful we have been. This is how our own joyful celebration will begin.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!