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.

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