Fourth Sunday in Lent Reflection
One single sip of God’s Mercy and our lives change for ever, but it is also possible to forsake God’s Mercy. We can block this Mercy, refusing the gift of Love, the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees considered themselves chosen and set apart, righteous in God’s eyes because of their observance of the law and the traditions of the fathers. They did not consider God’s Mercy necessary in their lives.
This fellow here, this man Jesus, he welcomes sinners and he eats with them; at one table sharing food. The Pharisees are horrified and disgusted.
The Rabbinic regulations of the Pharisees forbade them from eating with “sinners.” According to them, “sinners” were those who did not adhere to the Law of Moses nor the additional Pharisaic rules and regulations.
Sinners included those who lived immoral lifestyles as well as the Jewish tax collectors. For a Pharisee, eating with a sinner or tax collector was to defile oneself. For the Pharisee, righteousness came through ritual purity and separation from “sinners.”
This is why the Pharisees are horrified and disgusted by the actions of this man Jesus. But the Pharisees were also hypocrites, in love with dress codes and pious exterior devotions and ceremony, but with hearts devoid of kindness. John the Baptist pointed out their hypocrisy on the banks of the Jordan River. In truth, Pharisees found it impossible to fulfil the requirements of the law or to bridge the gap between justice and Mercy; so do we!
Today Jesus gives to the Pharisees and to us the well-known story of the prodigal son. This is a story of God’s grace and Mercy. There are three characters in this story, the ungrateful child who cannot wait to go it alone, the sneering and resentful elder brother and the father, the parent who forgives even when not asked.
The prodigal son represents all of humanity. For all have sinned and need God’s forgiveness. At another level it represents each one of us who have received a great inheritance, graces and gifts but we also have wasted them on things that we thought would make us happy, would make us famous and popular. But the emptiness remained!
At the end of the parable the father Claims “we had to celebrate and rejoice. This brother of yours was dead and has come back to life”. These are the same words used to describe the resurrection of Jesus. The one who died and has come back to life. Jesus who laid his life, death and resurrection has won for us forgiveness, a new heritage as heirs and a place at the banquet, at the celebration. This is God’s Mercy at work and has nothing to do with our own righteousness, purity and ritual observances.
There are indeed many who find God’s Mercy difficult to grasp. The juxtaposition between Mercy and justice seems to tear apart the demands of justice with the impossible largesse of the grace of Mercy of God. With the exclusion of compassion and Mercy, the Pharisees placed a heavy burden of law upon the shoulders of people. The Pharisees were self-righteous hypocrites and Jesus constantly pointed out their lack of compassion and Mercy.
Through the many centuries, we as church, have slowly but inexorably forgotten the admonitions of Jesus and lent more and more upon Law and the demands of justice as we come to interpret these in our doctrines and dogmas, just as the Pharisees did. Pope Francis continually reminds us of the weakness of our Mercy muscles. Many today are also horrified and disgusted by the Pope’s movement towards compassion and Mercy, just as the Pharisees were in their own time.
As Jesus did, so too are we called, as disciples of this fellow, of this man the Son of God, to call out all injustice and hypocrisy in an Imperial, hierarchical and paternalistic system that places heavy burdens of the law upon the people.
As the Pharisees before them, these are the people who demand adherence to a moral code and all those rules and regulations that they deem righteous. But the great opportunity has arisen in the life of our church as we now must acknowledge that the Emperor wears no clothes.
Examination of Conscience
The priests today, as the Pharisees of their time are granted exemption from strict adherence to these moral codes, rules and regulations. God’s grace and Mercy theologically act beyond the limitations and indiscretions of the priest actions. There is nothing that may inhibit the priest to re-enact in our most holy ceremony in the acts of the Mass. The Mass is always valid outside of the priests’ worthiness.
But this same largesse is not passed on to our brothers and sisters, those we consider immoral sinners; these we exclude from God’s Mercy at the table of the Lord. But let us not account our priests alone for this hypocrisy, we too as church, vilify and exclude those that we consider immoral.
In the light of our times and our life in the church, this is a good opportunity for an examination of conscience. Do we perhaps in the depths of our heart also consider ourselves justified, believing that we are in credit with God. Perhaps we have come to believe that those who do not pay for the entrance to paradise must be thrown out.
What is our attitude towards the sinners and the outcasts of our day, the unmarried mother, the divorced, the homeless, homosexuals, foreigners, those with AIDS; let us test our responses to that of the creator of us all who welcomes back sinners, even when they do not ask.
Each one of us need to take a very good look at our responses to this examination of conscience. Jesus has warned us that this same standard with which we judge, will be the standard by which we ourselves are judged. Lord if you should mark our iniquity, who would survive.