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Triumph of the Cross

September 14, 2007 - Year: c


24th Sunday of Ordinary Time
September 16, 2007 Year: C
Ex 32:7-11, 13-14; 1 Tim. 1:12-17; Lk
. 15:1-32
Repentance

Please refer also to the homily of 4th Sunday of lent 2007

First Reading...
“At the tope of Mount Sinai, the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”

The Lord said to Moses, ‘I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.’

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, ‘O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’

And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” [Ex 32:7-11, 13-14] 

Second Reading...
“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.

But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the foremost.

But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.


To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen” [1 Tim. 1:12-17]
 

Gospel Reading...
“All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

So Jesus told them a parable: ‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety righteous persons who need no repentance.

Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.’

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So the father divided his property between them.’

A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property to dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. The young man would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything.

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son: treat me like one of your hired hands.”

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe - the best one - and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!; And they began to celebrate.

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. The salve replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’

Then the elder son became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” [Lk. 15:1- 32]

I am now convinced of one thing: the parable of the prodigal son is not recorded in Scripture primarily as instruction to parents of wayward children. I understand this parable in its context as Jesus response to the grumbling of the Pharisees and scribes because of Jesus’ acceptance of and rejoicing with repentant sinners. If the first two parables reveal to us that the Pharisees did care (too) much about “lost possessions,” this parable exposes why they are not concerned about lost people. In, Luke this parable serves as the Lord’s final, forceful response to the grumbling of the Pharisees at His response to sinners.

There are really three persons in focus in this parable, not just one: the younger brother, the father, and the older brother. In order to understand and interpret this parable accurately, I will focus our attention briefly on each of these three characters. For us, this story may seem to be a very heart-warming incident, only slightly tarnished by the sulking older brother. For the Pharisees, this was a humiliating exposure of their sin and their hypocrisy. It did not produce “warm, fuzzy feelings,” at least not for those Pharisees who understood what Jesus was saying to them. Let us concentrate, then, on each of the three central characters of this parable.

The Younger Brother
The younger of two brothers one day approached his father with the request that he allocate to him his share of the inheritance earlier than would be customary, although not altogether out of the question:

“A man might leave his goods to his heirs by last will and testament (cf. Heb 9:16f.), in which case he was bound by the provisions of the Law. This meant that the first-born received two thirds of the whole (Dt. 21:17). But he could make gifts before he died and this gave him a freer hand (SB). The rules for disposing of property are given in the Mishnah (Baba Bathra 8). If a man decided to make gifts, he normally gave the capital but retained the income. He could then no longer dispose of the capital, only of his interest in the income. But the recipient could get nothing until the death of the giver. He could sell the capital if he chose, but the buyer could not gain possession until the death of the donor.”

The father granted the son’s request, and shortly thereafter the son left his father, his family, his country, and departed to a distant country, where he squandered his possessions in a sinful lifestyle. The money eventually ran out, and at the same time, a famine fell upon that part of the world, bringing this young man to desperate straits.

The young man was forced to hire himself out as a slave, and his job was the unpleasant task of caring for swine. Even the pigs, it would seem, were better cared for than he. It was in this state of want that the young man came to his senses. He recognized that he could live better as a slave of his father than as a slave in this foreign land. He knew that this would necessitate facing his father, and so he rehearsed his repentance speech, one that he was never allowed to finish.

The young man realized his folly and he returned to face his father. He had hoped only to be received as a slave; his father received him as a son. He had hoped, at best, for a little bread; his father provided a banquet. The young man did not gain all the material possessions he had lost, but he did regain the joy and privileges of his status as a son.

Let me emphasize two aspects of this story which relate to the younger brother. First, there is no attempt to minimize the seriousness or the foolishness of the sins of the younger son. Jesus did receive sinners and eat with them, but He never minimized sin. The seriousness of the young brother’s sins can only be understood in the light of his identity (I am assuming) as an Israelite. As an Israelite, this young man would understand several things about the blessings which God promised His chosen people. God was going to bless His people in the land. The young man left the land and went to a distant one. God was going to bless His people for obeying His law. This included the necessity of living a life that was very distinct (holy) from that of the heathen. This young man went and lived among the heathen as a heathen. Then Old Testament had very specific legislating to assure that the inheritance of each family was kept within the family, and that the children cared for their parents. This young man deserted his family, permanently lost his portion of the inheritance, and left his father in a potentially precarious position (he had just lost 1/3 of his father’s resources, and had lost his ability to look after him). For an Israelite, nothing could be lower than to be the slave of a heathen, and to have as one’s job the care of swine. This younger son, I say, acted in a very wicked and foolish way. I can envision Jesus’ audience sucking in their breath in shock and horror at what this man had done. I can see the Pharisees becoming bug-eyed and red-faced with anger at this man’s sin. Jesus did not attempt to minimize this younger son’s sin.

If the younger son’s sins were great, so was his repentance. Second, let us look at the characteristics of the younger brother’s repentance. The younger brother’s repentance was required by his sin, he very great sin, as we have just emphasized. The process of repentance began, I believe, when the younger brother began to suffer the painful consequences of his sin. It was only when he ran out of money and friends, and when he began to suffer hunger pangs that the young man “came to his senses.” Repentance begins, then, with seeing things straight, with seeing things as they really are. Repentance begins by seeing one’s actions as sinful, first in the sight of God, and then in the sight of men. Thus, the words of the son to his father, “I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight” (v. 18, NASB). The son’s repentance then led him to his father, whom he had offended, and to whom he acknowledged his guilt and sorrow. The son’s repentant spirit is reflected in his deep sense of unworthiness. He does not speak of or claim any rights. He hopes only for mercy. There are no demands. The son’s repentance touched the heart of his loving father, and paved the way for his restoration and rejoicing.

The Father
While the sheep-owner and the housewife accurately depicted the concern of the Pharisees for their possessions, it is the loving father of this parable who depicts the heart of the loving Heavenly Father, who longs for the return of the sinner, who willingly grants forgiveness, and who rejoices in the return of the wayward. This father gave the son what he had asked for. He allowed the son to go his own way, even when he could have prevented it (at least he could have refused to finance the venture). The heart of that father never forgot the wayward son. It was no accident that the father saw the son coming “from a long way off” (v. 20). The father ran to meet the son. He did not force the son to grovel. He did not even allow the son to finish his confession. The father quickly restored the son to his position as a son. The father commanded that there be a celebration. And when the older brother refused to participate, the father sought him out and appealed to him to join in the celebration, which he saw not only as permissible, but as necessary. The father was as gracious to the older brother as he was to the younger. How great the love of this father. How much like the Heavenly Father he is.


The Older Brother
The older brother we know to be the one in the parable who represents the Pharisees and scribes, who grumble at Jesus’ reception of sinners. Notice that the older brother is out in the fields working when the younger brother returns. The father, on the other hand, is apparently waiting and watching for the younger son’s return. He does not know of the younger brother’s return until his attention is aroused by the sounds of celebration coming from the house. He learns from a servant that his brother has returned, that the father has received him, and that a celebration has been called. The mention of the killing of the fatted calf is the “final straw” for the older brother. He became very angry and refused to go in to celebrate with the rest, even though this celebration was called for by the father.

When the father came out to his older son, to appeal to him to join in on the celebration, the older son refused. The words of the older son are the key to understanding his desires and attitudes. Give attention to those things which this son mentioned to his father, which are the basis of his actions, his anger, and his protest:

(1) I have worked hard, but you gave me no banquet. The older brother was at work in the field when his younger brother returned home. It would seem that this older brother thought that the basis for obtaining his father’s favor was his works. The father’s answer suggests the opposite. As a son, the older brother possessed all that his father had. He did not need to work to win his father’s approval or blessing, he need only be a son. This emphasis on works is the error of the Pharisees as well. The were “hard at work” with respect to keeping the law, as they interpreted it, supposing that this was what would win God’s approval and blessing.

(2) You have given your other son a banquet, when all he did was to sin. This is, of course, the flip side of the first protest. The older brother expected to be rewarded on the basis of his works, and he would likewise have expected his younger brother to have been disowned due to his works (sins). It was not the younger brother’s sins which resulted in the father’s celebration, but in his repentance and return. The older brother not only failed to comprehend grace, but he resented it. There are many similarities between the prophet Jonah in the Old Testament and this older brother.

(3) I have never neglected a command of yours. Not only does this son think that his works should have merited his father’s blessings, he also is so arrogant as to assume that he has never sinned. How could he say that he had never neglected a command of his father when, moments before, his father had commanded that there be a celebration, and the older brother had refused to take part? Is this not disobedience? The Pharisees, too, thought of themselves as having perfectly kept God’s commandments. 

The problem of the older brother, then, is self-righteousness. His self-righteousness is such that he expects, even demands God’s approval and blessings. His self-righteousness is so strong that he resents the grace of God and refuses to rejoice in it. The older brother failed to see that he was a sinner, and he also failed to understand that God has provided salvation for all sinners who truly repent. What the older brother did not think he needed (repentance and salvation) he resisted and resented in others, and thus he could not, he would not share in the celebration.

The father’s words to this son are significant. He reminded this older brother of the blessings which he had in staying home. He had, during those years when the younger son only had the fellowship of pagans and pigs, the fellowship of his father. The father said, “My child, you have always been with me… ” (v. 32a). This, for the older brother, was not enough, for he would have preferred to have been with his friends (v. 29). The father’s second statement was to remind the older son that he possessed all that was his: “… and all that is mine is yours” (v. 31b). This, too, did not seem enough to this older son.

The Differences Between the Two Sons

How different these two sons were, in some ways:

(1) The younger son left home; the older stayed home.

(2) The younger son was prodigal (wasteful); the older son was productive (a worker).

(3) The younger lost his inheritance; the older did not.

(4) The younger did not any longer feel worthy of his father’s blessings; the older did.

(5) The younger realized his sins; the felt righteous.

(6) The younger repented; the older resented. 

Similarities in the Sons
I have always thought of these two sons in terms of their differences. It was only in my study for this message that I came to realize the many similarities in the two. Consider the similarities in these two sons with me for a moment.

(1) Both sons wanted a celebration—a banquet. The younger brother “partied” with the pagans in a foreign land. The older son protested to his father that he had not been given a party.

(2) Both sons wanted to celebrate WITHOUT THEIR FATHER. The younger brother partied in a foreign land, with the wrong kinds of friends. The older brother refused to celebrate with his father (and younger brother), but he indicated a strong desire to have been allowed to have a banquet WITH HIS FRIENDS.

(3) Both sons seemed to feel that joy and celebration were not possible with their father. The younger brother left his father, his family, and even his nation to have a good time. Joy, to this fellow, was not possible in the confining environment of his faith and his family. The younger brother, too, seemed to feel that joy was not possible with his father, and thus he wanted to celebrate with his friends, not his father. Slaving seemed to be the principle governing him in his relationship with his father, not celebrating. I understand the “fatted calf” to have been the symbol of celebration. The father’s words to his older son seem to say, “The fatted calf (celebration and joy) were yours to enjoy at any time.” The older brother did not think so. Neither did the Pharisees, for their early protest to Jesus had to do with His celebrating (cf. Luke 5:27ff.).

(4) Neither son seems to have really appreciated or loved their father, even though he loved both of them. The younger son did not enjoy his father, so he left him. The older brother did not leave him, but did not enjoy him either. In response to the father’s words to the oldest son, “My child, you have always been with me,” the older son’s response, though unstated, seems to have been, “So what?” or, “Big deal!.”

(5)  Both sons were slaves. The younger son was first of all enslaved by his passions (sins), and also by a foreign employer. He returned to his father, hoping only to be received as a slave, but not dreaming that he could be a son again. The older brother was really a slave, too. Listen to his words to his father, “But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders’” (Luke 15:29). Because this brother thought he had to work for his father’s approval and blessings, he was no less a slave than his younger brother.

(6) Both sons were materialists. The younger son loved material things—money—more than his father or than his family, because he asked for his portion at the expense and risk of his family. The younger wanted his inheritance to spend on himself. The older brother, too was a materialist. His anger toward his brother and his unwillingness to receive him back was due to the fact that he had squandered part of his father’s possessions. If the younger brother wanted money to spend, the old brother wanted it to save, and thus (it would seem) to make him feel secure. Both sons loved money; they only differed in what they wanted to do with it, and when.

(7) Both sons were sinners. The Lord had left unchallenged, at the beginning of this chapter, the assumption on the part of the Pharisees that while others might be “sinners,” they themselves were righteous. But this final parable proves this assumption to be entirely false. The sins of these two sons were very different in their outward manifestations, but inwardly they had the same roots.

You see, we tend to appraise sin (and “sinners”) by merely external standards and criteria. Jesus always looked at the heart. We quickly grant that stealing, murder, rape, and violence are wrong, especially when they are perpetrated on us. But Jesus goes on to show us in the gospels that prayer, giving, preaching, or showing charity can be sinful, when the motive of the heart is wrong. We would look at the compliant, hard-working older brother and commend him. There is no outward rebellion here. No, there is not, at least not until the celebration. But the inward attitudes and motivations of this older brother as just as evil, indeed, they are more evil, for there is much self-righteousness concealed behind his outward conformity to his father’s will and to his hard work.

Conclusions
The older brother was angry with the father because he felt he did not get what he deserved (a banquet), while the younger brother got what he didn’t deserve (a banquet). The older brother’s works didn’t work, but the younger brother’s repentance did. That is the way God’s grace works—it is bestowed on unworthy people, sinners, who do not trust in their good works, but in God’s grace.

This explains the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus. He came to bring salvation to sinners, by grace, through faith, and not of works:

The problem of the Pharisees was that they were too good for their own good. They viewed others as “sinners,” but not themselves. They believed that they, by keeping the law, could earn God’s favor, and that unworthy sinners would be condemned to hell. They failed to see themselves as unworthy sinners (like the prodigal did), and thus they not only rejected God’s grace, they disdained it.

My friend, it matters little whether you are a socially acceptable sinner—like the Pharisees—or a socially unacceptable sinner—like the prodigal. In either case, you are worthy only of God’s condemnation. What matters is that you know you are a sinner and that you are unworthy of God’s favour, and that Christ’s death on the cross of Calvary is God’s gracious gift to you. All you must do is to repent—to admit your sin, and to receive God’s gift of eternal salvation.

There are many lessons here for Christians (saved sinners), as well as those who are, as yet, unrepentant sinners. Joy is to be one of the characteristics of the Christian. Joy is rooted in God’s grace. We can rejoice in our own salvation, and thus we can also share in the joy of others who come to repentance as well. It seems to me that many Christians are “sad sacks,” devoid of joy, because they have lost sight of their own salvation by grace, and they are not involved in leading others to it. The apostle Paul was motivated by joy, even in the midst of great suffering, danger, and tribulation (cf. all of Philippians). Paul found great joy in the salvation and growth of others

I think that there is much to be learned by Christians in the area of separation and holiness. We, like the Pharisees, seem to think that our holiness is measured by the distance we keep from “sinners.” The Bible speaks of holiness in terms of the closeness we keep to Christ. If, in the gospels we find Christ closely associating with sinners, then we can both have union with Christ and intimate association with sinners at the same time. Our concept of separation is the very thing that hinders us from evangelizing the lost, and it is one of the things which causes sinners to shun us, even as we do them. Let us give serious thought to the matter of biblical separation, for much that passes under this label is counterfeit.

The parable of the prodigal and his proud brother serve to instruct us in the area of worship. Neither son (the younger son changed, happily) was able to enjoy their father for who he was. Both viewed him only in terms of the “good things and times” he could provide. For the younger son, the father was the provider of the inheritance, so he could indulge his fleshly desires. For the older son, the father was the owner of the fatted calf, the one who, if willing, was able to throw a party for he and his friends. But neither son found the father desirable to be with and to enjoy his person.

We are very much the same way with God. We most often tend to think of Him as the giver, rather than as the gift. We come to Him in prayer, not for the fellowship and communion we can have with Him, but for the things we want Him to provide for us and for our enjoyment. True worship is enjoying God for who He is, not just for what He gives. The older brother was not able to see himself as greatly blessed because he had been with his father, while the younger had been apart from him. Let us seek to enjoy our heavenly Father for who He is.

Finally, our text forces us to ask if we, as a church, welcome sinners, or whether we, like the Pharisees, send them a clear message that they are not wanted. If we understand the grace of God, we will welcome sinners as those, like us, who are unworthy of God’s favor, and rejoice when they experience grace as we have. We will not seek the salvation of those whom we will not also welcome into our fellowship. Let us seek to have the mind of Christ in warmly receiving sinners, like us.

The Pharisees’ words are pregnant with meaning, I believe. They referred to Jesus as “this man.” I believe this is intended to be a specific reminder to the crowds that Jesus was just a man and not God. The first run-in between Jesus and the Pharisees had to do with Jesus’ authority to forgive sins, which was only the prerogative of God

I have implied earlier in this message that our definition of “sin” and of “sinners,” like those of the Pharisees and scribes, are often more social in nature than they are biblical. “Sinners” in our minds are those who are characterized by certain socially unacceptable activities. Sin, from a biblical point of view, is often characterized more in terms of attitudes. This does not mean that certain actions are not necessarily evil. Adultery is always evil, for example. But it does mean that many actions which appear righteous and spiritual—prayer, for example—may be evil, if the attitude behind the action is evil. “Sinners” to the Pharisees were more a social category than they were anything else. The Bible tells us that sinners are not just those in a certain segment of society, but that they are those whose attitudes and actions are contrary to the will and purpose of God. Let us think through our definition of sin much more carefully.


Triumph of the Cross
September 14, 2007 - Year: c
Numb. 21:4-9; Phil 2:6-11; Jn 3:13-7
Cross leads to Crown
 

First Reading...
"As they journeyed across the desert, the Israelites left Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, 'Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.'

Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.' So Moses prayed for the people.

And the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.' So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live." [Numb. 21:4-9]

Or...

"Though Christ Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." [Phil. 2:6-11]

Gospel Reading...
"Jesus said to Nicodemus: 'No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may ave eternal life.

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.'" [Jn. 3:13-7]

We celebrate the victory or the Triumph of the Cross. Why do we say triumph of the Cross? An instrument of defeat and shame has become a triumphant symbol? It is because of the one who died on it.

The cross is a mark of great suffering and humiliation, but it is a horrific symbol which we adore because through it we have come to know the great love that Jesus has for us, and through the wounds that it inflicted, we have been healed.

History:
The Cross of Jesus Christ was found in the fourth century by St. Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine. According to the legend, a goodly Jew named Judah was the only person who knew of the location of the cross. Under pressure from St. Helen, he revealed that it had been buried under the temple of Venus which had been built by Emperor Hadrian at Golgotha. As she found three crosses buried at the site, it seemed impossible to determine which one was the cross of Christ. Just then a funeral procession was passing by the place, and Helen had all three of the crosses brought to the side of the dead body. When the third cross was placed upon the dead man, he rose to life, confirming that this was indeed the life-giving cross of Jesus. There are probably hundreds of legends and stories that are attached to the finding and veneration of the cross (each with a hundred variations), and all of them seek to remind us of how dearly we value the sacrifice the Jesus made by carrying it. The cross is the burden that he lifted when he walked among us, it is the symbol of his suffering, it is the altar on which he as our high priest offered himself as the sweetest victim.

Practical Way to Live the Triumph of the Cross
Think of some of the painful events in your life. For how many of them are you grateful today, because thanks to them you changed and grew. Here is a simple truth of life that most people never discover. Happy events make life delightful but they do not lead to self-discovery and growth and freedom. That privilege is reserved to the things and persons and situations that cause us pain.  

Every painful event contains in itself a seed of growth and liberation. In the light of this truth return to your life now and take a look at one or another of the events that you are not grateful for, and see if you can discover the potential for growth that they contain which you were unaware of and therefore failed to benefit from. Now think of some recent event that caused you pain, that produced negative feelings in you. Whoever or whatever caused those feelings was your Teacher, because they revealed so much to you about yourself that you probably did not know. And they offered you an Invitation and a challenge to self-understanding, self-discovery, and therefore to growth and life and freedom.  

Try it out now. Identify the negative feeling that this event aroused in you. Was it anxiety or insecurity, jealousy or anger or guilt. What does that emotion say to you about yourself, your values, your way of perceiving the world and life and above all your programming and conditioning. If you succeed in discovering this, you will drop some Illusion you have clung to till now or you will change a distorted perception or correct a false belief or learn to distance yourself from your suffering, as you realize that It was caused by your programming and not by reality; and you will suddenly find that you are full of gratitude for those negative feelings and to that person or event that caused them. 

Now take this one step further. Look at everything that you think and feel and say and do that you do not like in yourself. Your negative emotions, your defects, your handicaps your errors, your attachments and neuroses and hang-ups and yes, even your sins. Can you see everyone of them as a necessary part of your development, holding out a promise of growth and grace for you and others, that would never have been there except for this thing that you so disliked. And if you have caused pain and negative feelings to others, were you not at that moment a teacher to them. an Instrument that offered them a seed for self-discovery and growth? Can you persist in this observation. In your observation till you see all of this as a happy fault, a necessary sin that brings so much good to you and to the world?  

In Real Life
It happened once, I had to visit my friend in the hospital. She was suffering of a terrible cancer. Her body had been reduced to mere bones. I had a long conversation with her. She was shivering in pain. Yet she spoke to me the secrets of cancer. Finally I put a question to her, dear how do you bear all this? She just put her hand under the pillow and drew out a beautiful crucifix and said, ‘but for this man on the cross I would have committed suicide father’, saying this tear rolled down her eyes. I understood the meaning of her sufferings. She had three children, absolute insecurity at home and her husband not having a fare-earning job. All these made her pain more acute. 

Suffering can be meaningful only when it is accepted for the sake of someone. We know that parents are capable of putting up with innumerable sufferings and inconveniences for the sake of their children – merely out of love for them.

Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it remains single and does not give fruit

Refer: II Corinthians 11:22-32. It’s a good text for explaining the sufferings of Paul
The word suffering causes suffering in the one who hears about it. No one invites on himself suffering. It is something that is comfortably avoided. We always say that Jesus suffered and died on the Cross for our redemption. It is through suffering that Jesus liberated the humanity of its miserable sinfulness. St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians explicitly says that he suffered more than the other Disciples of Christ.  

When we speak of suffering, we do affirm of physical, moral, psychological, social, mental sufferings.  

The meaning of the Cross is evident when we encounter sufferings in our personal life. As we march ahead in our journey, we do encounter various types of pain on the way.

The Cross-of Christ speaks to us the vertical and horizontal dimension of suffering. The vertical dimension speaks to us the difficulty of understanding the will of God in our life. It is at times so hard to grasp certain things that happen, such as sudden death of someone we deeply love, a sickness, loss of money, property, reputation, misunderstanding etc. The horizontal dimension is experienced when we are confronted with people who do not understand us and at the same time they pose a perennial obstacle to what we want to be. This in fact creates suffering in us. We never know how people can be so indifferent and so hard on us. 

Another story:
Once Jesus visited Bombay. It happened in monsoon season. As he was in the city it started pouring. Jesus did not have an umbrella. He pressed himself against a wall under a scanty roof. He waited for a long time. People passed by. He waited patiently if anyone could glance at him. No one offered him shelter under an umbrella. After three hours, Jesus sighed and cried to his Father and said “Father, it was better on the cross on Calvary, because people at least responded, reviled and shouted at me, but in Bombay, no one cares, there is only cold indifference and apathy… it was better Father on Calvary”. 

This is what happens, in our daily life; we cause suffering through our indifference to life and people.

  Click here for other Sunday Homilies 

A New book from Fr. Rudy :
Short review of the book: This book is an out come of a serious exegetical study on the important words and texts from the writings of St John of the Cross. The study deals with a short life and writings of the mystic and then does a complete study on GOD, MAN and WAYS to EXPERIENCE GOD. The book is available at: St. Joseph Church, Near Holy Cross Convent School, Mira Road East, Thane Dt. Maharashtra State - 401 107, India. Books can be ordered through email: rudyocd@yahoo.com or rudyocd@gmail.com

The cost of the book is Rs. 125/- pp.xviii + 234, The Title of the Book is: THE DYNAMISM OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH - An Exegetical Study on St. John of the Cross, author: Dr. Rudolf V. D' Souza, OCD, MA. PhD.

Dear friend, my homilies will be posted on Thursdays and you can benefit them and if you need more resources, you could contact me on rudyocd@yahoo.com or rudyocd@gmail.com

Let us make this ministry fruitful one so that the Word of God becomes a source of joy for me and for you and help people become more aware of its riches. You are also welcome to share your feedback with me. Thanks and God bless. 

 

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