FR. BEN’S HOMILY FOR THE 24TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR C
THEME: I WILL LEAVE THIS PLACE…
BY: Benedict Agbo (Rev Fr)
HOMILY FOR SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 11 2022
*Ex 32 : 7 – 14, 1 Tim 1 : 12 – 17, Lk 15 : 1 – 32.
The greatest tragedy facing a Christian is to ‘turn aside’ from the realm of God’s mercy (or what Rev Fr Prof Emmanuel Ifesie of blessed memory calls ‘the region of grace’). Today’s 1st reading speaks of how the Isrealites turned aside from God; the 2nd reading speaks of how St Paul himself turned aside from God in the past and came back while the gospel speaks about how the prodigal son turned aside (away) from his father (through sin), later turned back from sin (through remorse) and finally turned towards his father (through repentance).
Why was Moses told to go down immediately? Because God has zero tolerance for idolatry. Idolatry is one of the most dangerous obstacles to our relationship with God because it destroys the basic foundation of this relationship. According to Robert Wetmore, ‘There are two kinds of idolatry; one is having a true image of a false god, another is having a false image of the true God’. The latter is even more rampant among Christians although they hardly recognize it. But even the former has become a fecund ground for compromise among some theologians in the name of inculturation. Moses was told to rush down because the people of God have left the worship of God for idols. As soon as the people of God leave God to worship/ honour any other man made rituals (be it idols, masquerade cults, Inyama ogbanje cult or any demonic/ heathen culture) God is always very angry and sends his servants to go down and rebuke them.
B. PARABLES OF REPENTANCE
We have a beautiful couteriee of parables in today’s gospel, popularly called ‘the parable of 3 lost things’;
1.The lost sheep: Stands for our turning aside due to sheer foolishness, however because we may not blame the sheep for his foolishness, the obligations lay on the owner to go searching for his lost sheep.
2. The lost coin: Stands for our turning aside due to no fault of our own. The onus lay completely on the owner of the coin to go searching for his lost coin.
3. The lost (prodigal) son: Stands for our turning aside due to deliberate rebellion, spiritual immaturity or youthful exuberance. Note here that the father of the prodigal son had no obligation to go searching for him until he sighted him within the ‘region of grace’. The onus lay completely on the prodigal son himself to find his way back to the region of grace before his father now took over the game.
In all these, we have the image of a loving /merciful father that goes searching for his lost children when they stray. The gospel presents the preliminary complaint of the Scribes and Pharisees as the tax collectors and sinners were pervading the company of Jesus: ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’. So, he told them this parable.
C. THE PRODIGAL SON: BIBLICAL ANALYSIS
There are about 7 key characters in the whole story of today: (i) Moses, (ii) Aaron, (iii) The Isrealites, (iv) The Pharisees, (v) The prodigal son, (vi) The indignant son and (vii) The Merciful Father. And we would need to privately underline their roles.
Permit me to tarry just on the last of the parables – that of the Prodigal Son /Loving Father /Indignant Son. We have 8 highpoints here:
(i) Callous prayer request of the young man; It was a prayer point laden with impatient desire and wickedness against his father (who was still alive and he was asking for his patrimony). V. 12 says: ‘Father, let me have a share of the estate that would come to me’.
(ii) Role of human freedom; I just don’t know why the man granted that request but I think it all shows how God can also be ‘prodigal’ in allowing us use our human freedom. The young man was allowed by his father to go and learn the hard way what he may never have learnt in his father’s palace.
*As Monsignor Tadeo Onoyima would often say: ‘Youths often learn better as prodigals’.
(iii) Danger of separation from God; V. 13 says: ‘He left for a distant country’. He moved from blessedness (grace) to restlessness (curse) and ended up feeding pigs – a task that was forbidden to the Jews because the law said ‘Cursed is he who feeds swine’, Lev 11: 7, Deut 14: 8. The result was slavery; V.15 says: ‘He hired himself out to be a slave of one of the local inhabitants’. This was the highpoint of degeneration; V. 16 b says: ‘No one could allow him even to feed on husks meant for pigs’. That is what sin causes us.
(iv) Role of repentance; The 1st stage here is Remorse /Regret; V. 14 says: ‘He began to feel the pinch of his actions’. Next is the stage of Realization; V. 17 says: ‘He came back to himself (his senses)’. Jesus believed that so long as a man walks away from God (his creator), he was not truly himself, Jn 15: 5. The last is the stage of true repentance.
*St Augustine said: ‘You have made us for yourself O Lord and our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee’.
(v) Going back to the region of grace; What if the young man had repented without going back to his father? Real repentance only happens when we go back to God not when we relapse like Judas into frustration. Decision and Right Action is required here; V. 18 says: ‘I will leave this place and go back to my father’.
(vi) Confession; Repentance without confession is also incomplete. Although we may confess to God and get our spiritual healing yet Jesus says ‘Go and show yourself to a priest as a sign of your cleansing’, Lk 5: 14. Prayer of repentance followed by departure from the state of sin; V. 18 b says: ‘… and say “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you.. V. 19. So he left.
(vii) Restoration; The young man needed to be restored back again to the dignity of sonship which he lost through sin. V. 22 says: ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put on him’.
– The Robe was a symbol of honour, the Ring was a symbol of authority and the Shoes a symbol of restoration to the dignity of sonship.
– Is 58: 12 made us a promise: ‘Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt. You will build on age – old foundations. You will be called “Breach – mender’ – Restorer of streets to be lived in’.
* Take note that there is always in nature an inbuilt program of restoration in every system, eg Your computer system restores equilibrium by restarting /rebooting itself.
(viii) Celebration; There is great rejoicing and celebration at the repentance of every child of God. There is always a Welcome Party; V. 21 says: ‘His father ran to the boy and clasped him …Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it. We are going to have a feast, a celebration because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found’.
I will like to draw our attention on today’s readings into the following practical contexts;
(i) The state of our people: Many are dead in sin; idolatry, immorality, stealing, bribery and corruption, lost in drunkenness and licentiousness (bad music and dancing), lost in ireligiousity (Akatakpa, Omabe and Odo cults, divination and fortune telling, etc).
(ii) The Vocation of Priests: God’s call to Moses and to our priests of today: ‘Go down at once for your people whom you brought here from Egypt have become corrupt’.
(iii) The state of our false prophets: As Aaron was led into the temptation of ministering to the people’s whims and caprices, many priests and pastors today are playing to the people’s gallery as orators, ‘Osuofias’ or entertainers, ‘dibias’ or ‘ndi oru ezinuno’ – healers of evil family roots, oath givers or ‘ndi ogba ndu’, fortune tellers, diviners and prayer contractors (ndi na – eme ekpere) for the people. In all these, authentic faith and endurance in trouble situations is sacrificed at the altar of quick solutions to their problems.
* Quote Dr Ramsey Michael, former Archbishop of Canterbury: ‘It is risky to give one’s life to God as a priest but God is taking a greater risk by accepting you as his priest’.
(iv) The nature of sin: 3 things are involved in every mortal sin; (a) Distancing /turning away from God, (b) Illusory pleasures eg debauchery, Lk 15: 9 and apostasy /idolatry, Ex 32: 7 – 14, (c) Degeneration; covenant breaking, release of the wrath of God /curse, suffering /abandonment, moving from sonship to slavery.
(v)The consequence of sin; The consequence of sin is pain of loss and pain of sense – the 2 major pains of hell fire according to Fulton J Sheen.
(vi) The nature of Repentance: 3 things are also involved here; (a) Realization – He TURNED INWARDS to his senses, (b) Decision /Action – He said: ‘I will leave this place and go back to my father’ – He TURNED TOWARDS God, (c) Confession – He spoke to God. Confession is TURNING TO GOD THROUGH HIS PRIEST.
(vii) The nature of the sacrament of reconciliation: 3 things are also involved here: (a) Contrition – Sincere regret of sin, (b) Confession – Asking for forgiveness through a priest, Lk 5: 14, (c) Satisfaction – Penance or prayer of restoration.
– Refer to the robe, ring and sandal imagery.
(viii) Our attitude towards sinners: The same attitude displayed by the dutiful /Indignant first son is still repeated by many Christians of today.
– The guy had spent years of grim duty not of loving service to his father. I call it ‘Itu utu mentality’ – the mentality that makes us contribute money reluctantly in the Church as duty fines which must be calculated for others before they can join us or even receive the benefit of a Christian burial.
– In Jn 15: 15 , Jesus says: ‘I no longer call you servants because…’
– He is the only one who accused his brother of having gone out with harlots, v. 30. He had a peculiarly nasty mind like many Christians of today, playing the devil’s advocate, the role of ‘the accuser of the children of God’, Rev 12: 10.
Let me quickly conclude by reminding us of the 3 turning points in the life of the Prodigal Son: (i) He turned away from his father (sin), (ii) He turned back from sin (remorse) and (iii) He turned towards his father (repentance). We can do likewise.
Let us learn to be merciful like the father of the prodigal son. We should take note of the following:
(a) There will be great rejoicing in the kingdom of heaven over one sinner that repents than the 99 that have no need of repentance.
(b) The Eucharist is supposed to foreshadow this celebration of return back to spiritual life. It is supposed to be preceded by thorough examination of conscience, 1 Cor 11: 27 – 29, Jn 13: 9 and reconciliation, Lk 15: 10, 2 Cor 5: 18.
(c) We Christians often seem to prefer a stern and vengeful God to the merciful father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we should learn to be merciful like our father because, according to Winston Churchill, ‘If we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have lost the future’.
* Closing song: Odighi onye ozo n’elu uwa Odighi onye ozo. Nani Jesus n’iru m, Nani Jesus n’azu m. Nani ya ga – eburu mkpa m nile, Odighi onye ozo. Or Do something new in my life.
Happy Sunday dear friends!