Father Valan Arockiaswamy

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HOMILIES

Close Dear Audience,
For better understanding of the spiritual message behind this homily I kindly remind you to first read and contemplate the biblical texts before reading or listening to my preaching - a human reflection on the Word of God!

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year C)

Mar 31, 2019 Views 124 Listen 13 Downloads 0
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First Reading

A reading from the Book of Joshua (5: 9a, 10-12)

The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you."

While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalms of David (34: 2-3, 4-5, 6-7)


(R) Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at the times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the lowly will hear me and be glad. (R)

Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name. I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. (R)

Look to him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard, and from all his distress he saved him. (R)

Second Reading

A reading from the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (5: 17-21)

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ, is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

(P) The word of the Lord.
(R) Thanks be to God.

Gospel

A reading from the Gospel according to Luke (15: 1-3, 11-32)

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

So to them Jesus addressed this parable: "A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, "Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me." So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, "How many of my father's hired workers have more than enough to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father, and I shall say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called you son; Treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers."" So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son." But his father ordered his servants, "Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found." Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, "Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound." He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, "Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf." He said to him, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.""

(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
(R) Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ.

Homily

There is a story about two brothers who lived on adjoining farms. The brothers, who were normally on good terms for many years, fell out over an inheritance, and had since stopped speaking to each other. There was nothing but bitterness between them.

One morning, one brother named John answered a knock at his door. It was a carpenter who asked John if there was any work to do. John replied that there was something he could do, and then led the carpenter to where the two properties met and showed him how the other brother had created a creek where the meadow used to be. John said, "I know my brother did this to make me angry. I want you to help me get even with him by building a high fence so I won't have to see him or his property ever again". The carpenter agreed and started to work immediately. By evening, when John came to check the work, he was shocked that the carpenter had not followed his instructions. Using his skill, the carpenter had built a bridge over the creek instead of a fence.

In spite of his utter shock and disappointment, John was walking down to take a look at the bridge. And as he did, the other brother too was walking down the bridge. He was quite moved that his brother had done such a wonderful thing. Subsequently, the two brothers met in the middle, looked at each other and then held each other in a tender embrace. There were no words exchanged. And then, as they were walking in complete silence, to their farmhouse, they saw the carpenter packing his tools and asked him to stay for a while to do more work for them. The carpenter replied, "I'm sorry, I can't stay. I have many other bridges to build". Having said that the carpenter left.

The Bible contains many wonderful stories like these. In fact, they are much more than stories. They aren't made up stories. They really happened. Remember the amazing story about a man named Joseph in the Old Testament. Joseph was the 11th and most loved son of Jacob, also known as Israel and, the first son of his beloved second wife, Rachel.

According to the Book of Genesis, years after Joseph was sold into slavery, he was falsely accused of attempted rape and imprisoned, Genesis (37-50). While languishing in prison, Joseph used his God-given gift of interpretation of dreams to help his prison mates. Eventually, Joseph had an opportunity to interpret Pharaoh's dream of an impending famine in Egypt and, in turn, was released and given a position of power in the land. During the seven years of famine, he was responsible for rationing grain to the Egyptians and to outsiders who came seeking help. When Joseph's brothers also went down to buy grain, Joseph recognized them but did not reveal his identity to them immediately.

Having suffered so much from the atrocities and wickedness of his brothers, he would have been justified to take revenge, but he held no anger, hatred, or resentment toward them. He forgave them; eventually, the family got reunited in Egypt. Although Joseph had already forgiven them, his brothers feared that he would harm them after their father died. But Joseph comforted and reassured them that God would be their judge, and he also told them that while they meant evil against him, the Lord used it for good, in order to save many starving people.

These stories teach us so many important truths, such as the need for reconciliation and peace in life; the role of forgiveness in achieving them; the work of peace-making and so on.

In today's reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, we read Paul's instruction regarding our need for reconciliation with God and our role in making the reconciliation, Corinthians (5:17-21). Although the instruction was primarily intended for the Christians living at Corinth around A.D 56, it is meant for all believers of all ages throughout the centuries and in all parts of the world.

Today, we shall take this instruction, as though Paul is directly addressing us:

  • Paul tells us who we, Christians, are already. He tells us that we are a "new creation", 2 Corinthians (5:17a). What does he mean that a Christian is a new creation? In the verses preceding today's text, Paul writes, "Christ has died for all; therefore, all have died. He died for all, so that, those who live, may live no longer for themselves, but for him, who died, and rose again for them", 2 Corinthians (5:14-15). Here, "all" does not refer to all mankind, but all who died in Christ or with Christ on the cross, meaning all who died to sin. Because Jesus died to sin, those who believe in Him have died to sin as well. And Paul states further that when the believers are raised with Jesus from the death of sin to a life of righteousness, they become "new creation" and no longer live just to please themselves, but to live for Christ.
  • Paul tells us, "the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come", 2 Corinthians (5:17b). What Paul is saying here is that the human pride, love of sin, dependence on our own works, our former sinful thoughts, ideas, habits, wants and ways, which we inherited from the first human beings, Adam and Eve, and were buried with Jesus. But now, as Jesus was given life, we also have been given new life through Him.
  • Paul wants us to know that the "new birth" or "new life" or "new creation" is a gift from God, 2 Corinthians (5:18a). In other words, we did not inherit the new nature or decide to re-create ourselves anew but God Himself has made us anew. As John in his gospel writes, "it is brought about by the will of God", John (1:13).
  • Paul says, "God has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of salvation", 2 Corinthians (5:18b-19a). To understand the verse, we must first examine the use of the word "reconciliation". The Greek words, the noun katallage meaning "reconciliation" and the verb katallasso meaning "to reconcile", rarely appear in the New Testament. Only Paul has used the word both in the noun form and the verb form, in a couple of passages in his writings, including five times in this short passage.

What is "reconciliation"? In accounting, reconciliation is the process of ensuring the accuracy and validity of two sets of records. In ancient Greece, the usage of the term "reconciliation" was non-religious. That is to say, the word was never used in cultic contexts where people had the practice of making offerings and sacrifices to appease gods or to expiate their guilt. It was only used to describe the process of two people restoring their broken relationship. Paul employed this word to describe the reconciliation between God and man or the restoration of the divine - human relationship.

But in God's reconciliation with man, Paul makes four things clear:

  • God initiated the reconciliation with mankind. It was wholly His initiative and plan to save us from the power of sin.
  • God made the reconciliation possible only through the teachings, suffering, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
  • God reconciled Himself to us, His enemies, while we were still in hostility or remained in our sinful state. He treated us as though we were innocent.
  • God has commissioned us to share the message with others, particularly non-believers, that they also can be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. In this way, Paul says that we become "ambassadors for Christ", 2 Corinthians (5:20a).

What is an "ambassador"? The Greek word for "ambassador" is presbeuo, that literally means an "elderly person", or a "mature person". For instance, in the parable of the Prodigal Son in today's gospel, the word is used as the title for the "elder son" or "elder brother". It is believed that in the ancient Greek culture, it was the elder son or elder brother's job to keep the family together. In ancient Greece, the same word presbeuo was also used as "ambassador", and had the same meaning as it has today. An "ambassador" can be defined as an official envoy or a representative of a nation in a foreign land. It is of utmost importance that ambassadors uphold the dignity and image of the countries they represent, and that they carry themselves in a manner that will not dent their countries' reputation but rather uplift it.

Similarly, Paul holds that we, Christians, as ambassadors for Christ, are not just given the task of sharing the message of reconciliation with others but are also required to show the same characteristics or qualities of ambassadors. We must be mature people whose life reflects well on our Lord Jesus Christ. We must stand and represent Him in this lost world, and it is a huge responsibility. That's why Paul is delivering that message as though God were pleading through us, 2 Corinthians (5:20a).

If we are to go into the world of lost brothers and sisters and tell them that reconciliation to God is available to them through His Son Jesus Christ, Paul stresses that, first and foremost, "we must be reconciled to God. We must not forget that Christ who was holy, righteous, and perfectly sinless, became sin, not a sinner, but a sin-offering, a sacrifice for sin, so that we might become God's righteousness in Him", 2 Corinthians (5:20b-21).

How can we reconcile to God?

  • Just as we heard in the first story today: our pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, sloth and other evil thoughts and deeds have created a rift between us and our creator God. Recognizing our inability to bridge the gap, God Himself has made a way for us; He has made the Bridge, that is, His Son Jesus Christ, in order that we all might get to Him. "For God so loved the world that He gave His Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life", John (3:16). Jesus has become the bridge for us through His sacrifice and death on the cross and resurrection.

    He is the way, but the choice is ours. We have to make a personal choice to walk across the bridge that God has provided for us. So, we must believe in the power of the Cross of Christ, and start walking towards Him so as to receive His free gift of salvation. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord", Romans (6:23). Acceptance of the gift of salvation in Christ enables us not only to live more peacefully here on earth but also to live eternally in heaven.

  • As we seek reconciliation and peace with God, we must also encourage others, both believers and non-believers, to seek reconciliation with God. In other words, we must act as ambassadors of God's reconciliation. However, as we share God's message of reconciliation that is available through Jesus Christ, we must also try to live out His message, by seeking reconciliation with friends and families, even if it isn't our fault. Like Joseph in the Old Testament story, each one of us must seek out the appropriate words and ways to reconcile with others.

Moreover, remember, our Lord God has shown the greatest example of humility. Just as He has forgiven us unconditionally in Christ so as to accomplish reconciliation, we must forgive others unconditionally and be reconciled, Matthew (5:24; 6:14-15). We must be "kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgives us", Ephesians (4:32). May the Lord our God show us His approval and make our efforts successful, Psalm (90:17).

(P) Amen.

God Bless You!

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