Sunday, March 10, 2013

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Lent

Homily for the
4th Sunday of Lent

I preached last nite to Scouts (Putnam Valley) and this morning at St. Vincent's Hospital (Harrison) on the parable of the lost son, without written text.  Here's an oldie based on all 3 readings for today.

Joshua 5: 9-12
2 Cor 5: 17-21
Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
March 25, 2001
FMA Provincialate, Haledon, N.J.
St. Joseph, Passaic, N.J.

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.’  On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased.  No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan” (Ex 5:9,11-12).

Last Sunday we heard the story of the call of Moses “to rescue [Israel] from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them…into a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8).  Today we hear that they have finally arrived in that “good and spacious land” (ibid.) after 40 years of wandering and suffering in the wilderness of Sinai and the lands on the far side of the River Jordan.  They have just crossed the Jordan and encamped near Jericho, the gateway to the Promised Land.  Now, at last, they can begin to feast on that “land of milk and honey,” on the abundance of its grain and vineyards.  At the same time, they are leaving behind that wondrous and mysterious food, the manna, with which God sustained them for all those years in the desert.  For they have passed over the desert, they have passed over the Jordan, they have passed over to something far better.  God has delivered on his promise to Moses to lead them out of the oppression of Egypt and into the land that will become their own.  Egypt and its slavery, the Sinai and its sufferings, are now history; they are past.  The present is the fulfillment of the promise; it is salvation.

St. Paul strikes a similar note, but from a Christian perspective:  “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:  the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5:17).  Having passed thru the waters of baptism, we have passed away from the old things of what Paul calls our “former way of life” (Eph 4:22) and entered a kind of promised land, a land full of new things, “a new creation.”  We have renounced Satan and all his works and all his empty promises (Rite of Baptism).  We have left behind our slavery to sin, our doom to hell.  We have crossed over the River Jordan with Christ into the kingdom of God; Christ has reconciled us to God, who has forgiven our trespasses (2 Cor 5:18-19) and put them all behind us.  We will no longer feed on our passions but will be filled with virtue.  Thru Christ, we stand in anew relationship with God, washed clean and pleasing in his sight.  Firmly united with Christ by our baptism, confirmation, and the Eucharist, we have “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:14) and become, with him, children of God; we have “become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

We have passed over with Christ into the promised land.  Now with him we celebrate our Passover, feasting on the fruit of the land.  Unlike the Israelites on the outskirts of Jericho, we don’t eat “unleavened cakes and parched grain” (Jos 5:11).  We feast on the body and blood of Christ, which is a foretaste and a promise of yet greater feasting to come.
Return of the Prodigal, by Rembrandt
Like the younger son in the parable Jesus tells us today (Luke 15:11-32), we have wandered off from our Father’s love and done evil deeds:  more of those same evils that we renounced by our baptism.  But our Father wants us back.  All the while that we’re wandering in this worldly wilderness with all its moral dangers, the Father’s looking for us to come home for good.  Of course we can’t put sin entirely behind us as long as we are on this earth.  We can only keep returning to the Father in Christ thru the sacrament of Reconciliation.  But on the day when we pass away from this earth, we will irrevocably put away our rebelliousness and come into a great banquet that the Father has set for all his children (cf. Luke 15: 23-24).  We’ll all be clothed in festal garments (cf. Luke 15:22)—which the white robes we wore at our baptism symbolize, and perhaps also the special vestments of the Eucharistic celebration.  The Eucharist is figuratively called manna because it wondrously and mysteriously nourishes us as long as we wander about in the desert of earthly life.  But it’s also the food of our new life, the life promised us in Christ, the life when we will be with our Father always, and everything he has will be ours as well (cf. Luke 15:31).

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