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Summary: Mercy is the other name for love.

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Fourth Sunday of Lent - Year C

March 18th, 2007

Readings:

* Jos. 5.9a, 10-12

* 2 Cor.5:17-21

* Lk. 15:1-3,11-32

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Driving In Reverse

One day, the Police Department in a small country town, received a phone call from a worried citizen who reported that he had seen the same car pass by his home five times. That in itself would not have been enough to call out the police. But, the caller continued. The car was driving in reverse. Police later reported that they stopped a teen-age girl after a number of complaints that a car had been seen going around the neighborhood in reverse for some time.

When the police approached the stopped vehicle, the girl had a very logical explanation of her strange behavior. She told police that her parents had let her use the car, but they had reversed their decision when they discovered that she had put too many miles on it. "I was just trying to unwind some of it," she said. Well, don’t try this trick. As most of us learn the hard way in life, you can’t unwind the past.

Three Important Lessons

But if it’s really impossible to undo the mistakes of the past, what hope do we have? Let’s start with these questions first: What are the three most important lessons we need to take from today’s Gospel? What three words best describe God in Luke’s story of the father and his two sons? And, finally, what are the three most important things we need to know about God? Well, the answer to all of the above questions is the same. Mercy, mercy, mercy. There is nothing which is beyond the mercy of God. And every one of us desperately needs to know and hold on to this reality.

In past generations, the concept of mercy was perhaps a more familiar one. It was considered a virtue and a spiritual gift to be desired and pursued. Teachers and parents considered mercy a crucial part of one’s spirit and character that should develop as a person grew to Christian adulthood. In the 1600’s, Shakespeare wrote some of his most beautiful work around the theme of "the quality of mercy."

The Human Condition

One way to see how mercy is so crucial in our lives is to reflect for a minute on the constant human condition. I would venture to say that every person here today is carrying some sort of burden. And some are carrying extremely heavy burdens-burdens of sorrow at some quick, hurtful words we shouted in anger, burdens of despair at some bad habit we feel we cannot change, burdens of regret at some unkind or dishonest thing we did against another person, or burdens of embarrassment at not doing something kind or generous to help someone who needed us.

To some extent, these are all burdens of guilt. We are all too aware of the mistakes we have made. Something--that inner voice we call "conscience"--keeps telling us we could have and should have made better choices. In some cases, we can’t even imagine how anyone could bring forgiveness into our lives. We have given these sins the power of strong and unbreakable chains, allowing those chains to weigh down our future actions. Unresolved guilt prevents us from living a joyful life, and allows the past to rule our present lives.

Burden Of Mediocrity

But then again, some might say, "I really don’t feel any big burdens weighing me down." Rather, some of us are unconsciously weighed down by our mediocrity and lack of love for others. Down deep, we sense our own smallness and pettiness and want to escape from such an uninspired way of living. So, even if we do not consider ourselves great sinners, neither do we think of ourselves as worthy of very much either.

Both groups of people need to hear today’s story. Both of us need to draw the immense consolation that we experience in watching how the father deals with each of his children. The younger son was consciously weighed down by the many deliberate, rebellious, and thoughtless things he had done. The elder son was unconsciously weighed down by his narrow view of life and his petty jealousy. Both needed mercy-the mercy of a Father whose love was huge and all-encompassing. The Father didn’t wait for apologies. He saw each son just as he was, and yet loved each son just as he was.

Wholeness

By showing unconditional mercy immediately to both sons, the Father restored their wholeness. He makes it possible for them to grow beyond their sins and petty guilt, to change their directions in life, and to really know themselves as beloved-- unconditionally. What better reason for a party!

And what a great example of Divine Mercy! God, too, always sees us as we truly are, loves us constantly, yet still urges us to new growth and life. When we finally experience how tenderly God loves us, we forget our guilt and rush to spread this Good News everywhere in our lives.

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