Sunday, March 7, 2010

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C

The familiar Gospel before us today might lead us to ask, “How much is one human being worth?”

There are many ways to measure that issue. Our financial profiles for example might be the measure of man’s worth. After all how many times have you been asked to give an estimate of your “net worth?” In legal terms the value of our future worth is predicated on the number that corresponds to our “life time earning potential.” Insurance actuaries will measure our worth and “replacement value” based on our earned income and age.

We can answer the question before us this morning, “How much are you worth?” from other points of view.

If we could somehow break down the chemical composition of your body I could tell you your worth in tradable commodities. You have within your body enough iron for a nail; enough sugar to fill a sugar bowl; enough fat for seven bars of soap (that may very from person to person); enough lime to whitewash a dog house; enough phosphorous for 2,200 match heads; enough
magnesium for a dose of magnesium; enough potassium to shoot a toy cannon; all mixed in with a little sulfur so that even in today's inflated market you are valued at about $3.50. That is how much we are all worth give or take a few dollars.

In psychological terms our self worth is measured differently according to gender. Females we are told measure their worth by the number of life affirming relationships they have. Men on the other hand measure their worth based upon the number of successful tasks they accomplish.

In today’s gospel we are confronted with a man whose worth is questioned or who at least questions his own worth. From his chemical composition he is still worth that same $3.50, but economically his earning potential has been diminished. How much do we pay a Hog feeder? His net worth is zero we are told because he has squandered all of his wealth on dissipate living. Psychologically his self worth is minuscule. The only task left for him to accomplish is the repetitive task of feeding the pigs.

Yet in spite of all these measurements this man continues to have worth. He is worth, we are told the cost of a fatted calf, he is worth the price of a new garment, new sandals. We are told he is worthy of a feast to celebrate his return.

What gave the prodigal his value is that he belonged to someone. He had a father. A father who did not burden him with expectations. A father who did not demand from him an accounting. A father who only unconditionally loved him. If I hear that there are 5,000 runaways every day in America that fact may cause me to blink my eye. The statistic hurts.

But if I hear that my child is one of them, there is nothing that I will not do to see that they are found. Why? Because, my child is not a statistic. My child is an intimate and integral part of me.

You and I are in that same kind of intimate relationship. You, I, and that lost son are more valuable to the father than an African diamond or Arabian oil.

Why? Because, we truly belong to our heavenly father. We are in his image we are in his likeness. We are one with the father through our Baptism. In the parable of the lost coin, we read where a woman turns her house upside down in search for a missing coin. In the parable of the lost sheep we read that the shepherd left his flock to look for that one significant lamb.

God does the same for each of us. Will God not literally turn the world upside down in his search for one lost individual? He has left his heavenly abode. He has turned the world upside down by sending himself into the world so that each of us can be festive in attitude. So that each of us will be receptive to the bountiful gift of newness. Each of us can be freed from the disgraces of our past as the people of Joshua were freed from the “disgrace of Egypt.”

It does not make any difference as to the number of disgraces nor the depth of the disgrace.

For God these measures of unworthiness are useless. The God of today’s gospel is not an accountant, he is not an actuary, and he is not an investment banker. God does not calculate our worth. He only greets us with words of reconciliation.

Our task is but simply to accept the reconciling, forgiving compassionate God who calls us to a renewed life. Remember his great deeds of bringing a people out of persecution as he did in the Old Testament. He lead them from wandering into a life of bountiful plenty.

First Sunday of Lent Year C

Thanks to the genre of voyeuristic television “Temptation” has become a very popular word recently. A some years ago that mode of entertainment enabled us to peek into the “committed lives” of couples who were rewarded somehow by tempting their relationship. Beautiful women, balmy beaches, and virile men. Put them together and what do you get--temptation. In the film “Couples Retreat” on an island designed to build bonds between spouses temptation inserted itself.

Temptation is of course enticing and titillating. From our Catholic point of view, however, temptation is something to be avoided. That is why we pray “lead us not into temptation.” We pray that because we innately know that temptation is easy to fall victim to. It matters not whether the temptation comes from a demon in a red suit or whether it comes from another individual or whether it come from within us. It is easy to fall victim to temptation.

In today’s gospel we are given insight into the humanity of Jesus. It was in that humanity that Jesus was taken into the dessert. It was in his humanity that Jesus was tempted. The gospel is given to us today so that we might have a measure of our own temptation and our ability to resist. Like Jesus our abilities to resist temptation of any sort is based on the decisions we make.

In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for all people by providing them with food. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus makes life easier for himself and for us by making use of political power. In the desert the devil suggested that Jesus make himself the ruler of the center of his world, Jerusalem.

What is Jesus response to all of these suggestions? He goes back to the Book of Deuteronomy. It is from that ancient text that Jesus finds his answer. He will put his life in God’s hands and God’s hands alone.It is not unimportant to the Christian life to note that temptation comes more often when we, like Jesus, are in the midst of a desert experience. By that I mean an experience where it appears that all of our support is gone, an experience of utter aloneness--An experience of getting lost and not being able to decide the proper direction to take. Some of you may be going through an experience like that right now.

Perhaps you are the forty year old who has just been laid off due to corporate downsizing. The desert experience is being without a job and filled with confusion, resentment and the utter sense of failure.

Perhaps you are a widow whose husband died after only 18 years of marriage. You are left bereft of the warm relationship you had. You are filled with grief. You are entangled in a world of decisions to be made by you alone where once you had a partner.

Or, is the desert experience that you are going through the experience of being a high school senior. You are getting ready to leave home. You are filling out applications, going for campus visits, and interviews. You are waiting, waiting for letters and acknowledgments, so that you can get on with life. But at the same time questioning, “Am I ready for this? Do I really truly want to grow up?”

Desert experiences are abundant in our lives and with them come the temptations. Of all the temptations that are available to us there is one that is most evil. It is not sex, it is not power, and it is not wealth. The most evil of all temptations is despair. The despair that comes from deciding to let go of God. The despair that come from deciding to not grow from your desert experience. The despair that comes from deciding not to love, when a loved one is taken away, the despair that comes from deciding to let fear of the future overrule you.

The same spirit that accompanied Jesus in his desert decision making is the spirit that accompanies you through the joys and anguish of life. Lent calls our beings into the desert to discern what God call us to. Lent is the time to be reminded of the words of the Psalmist, “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble.”

Desert experiences are all too frequent. But they allow us to refocus, recenter, and renew our hope in God’s compassionate promise of new hope and new life in, through and with Jesus.