Sunday, March 31, 2019

Rejoice and Feast; Your Shame Is Gone

Lots of themes within the Prodigal Son. But the First Reading and the Psalm today suggest to us that the common theme of the day is God rejoicing over us, taking away our shame, and seating us at the great feast. And every Catholic should totally be able to connect those themes with the other traditional Prodigal Son themes of contrition, forgiveness, and mercy.

Rejoice and Feast; Your Shame Is Gone

4th Sunday of Lent, Year C

Today is Laetare Sunday. Today is a day of great rejoicing Laetare is one of those two Latin words we use for rejoicing: we have Gaudete Sunday in Advent and Laetare Sunday in the middle of Lent showing us we're over halfway through those two penitential season. So we wear bright colors, pretty colors, Rose colors and to say that we are we are in a celebrating mood. Our readings hit on that today so why don't you open up your missalette to page 81. Let's start with the gospel. 

The gospel of course we immediately recognize as the gospel of the prodigal son. And one thing you could pull out of the readings today is you could get this sense of reconciliation, because Paul talks about reconciliation in the second reading (I think he says we're about seven times). And there is only reconciling going on in an all three. I think the direct connection though between the first reading and the gospel —with bringing the responsorial psalm in tow— is the idea that: "What are we doing in those? We are rejoicing and eating —specifically feasting— rejoicing and feasting because the shame is over. Because our shame is taken away. So if you go to the second column there on page 81, and you go to that response of the father, fourth line down: "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." 

OK. So we are rejoicing. He has embraced his son. He's dressed him in the finest clothes. He's saying, "No son of mine will be shabby in my house." He takes away the shame. He says, "You're not going to walk in here in rags. They're not going to see "the dirty". <sniff, sniff> They're not going to smell the pigs on you. Right? He said, you know, your shame is going to be taken away. We're removing that. You're going to look like my son. You're going to be known as my son. Everyone's going to realize that my son is back. So he takes away that shame. And then they take the fattened calf and they go to slaughter it. 

And then we know [what happens]. What does the older brother hear as he comes in? Jump down halfway down; maybe a third of the way down. That beginning of the new paragraph there: "Now the older son was out in the field and on his way back as he neared the house he heard the sound of music and dancing." So again, we're not just eating and stuffing our faces. We are clearly having a loud, raucous party right. There's music and dancing. There's enough you can hear it all the way out in the field, enough that he is taken aback. And we know that he'll say later, "I don't see this kind of partying in my dad's house." Right? 

Jump down two thirds of the way there: What does he say to his father? "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 on with my friends." In other words, "This has not been a house of parties. This has not been a place of loud celebration. But you do it when this guy comes back? When this guy—who is shameful; who has done shameful things; who has shamed you and shamed our family by his choices; who's brought shame upon all of us by what he has done; who's been in the land of the Gentiles." That's why he smells like pigs, right? There's no pigs in Jewish Land. There's pigs in Gentile Land. You wouldn't have pigs in Jewish Land , right? [The brother] says, "He's done all of that and he then comes back and you do all this for him? "When your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf." But we're told the answer, right? We're told: "Why are we rejoicing? Why are we feasting?" Because —fourth line from the bottom— "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. 

So the father takes away the shame. The father takes away all of that, and rejoices, and gives a meal. The three pieces, right there. Take away the shame, feast, and celebrate. All those [characteristics] are happening there in that story. 

Now before we immediately jump into the context of our lives, let's look back at the first reading. So jump back to page 79. 

We can read it initially as just: "Oh they're in the Promised Land finally. They're in the land of Canaan finally. They're getting to eat, and we could also read it as, "Oh it's a Passover!" They had the Passover when they left Egypt, and now they're celebrating it in peace, in prosperity, in the land of Canaan. They're showing that this is not a thing we're going to put away having just gotten out of land in Egypt. This is a ritual, this is a meal, this is a celebration, we're going to bring with us. 

But notice the context that God puts on that now-celebratory form of Passover. (The first Passover was with fear and trembling as the angel of death was going over the city, and they're hiding in their houses and knowing that something great is going on, and the blood of the lamb is on the door protecting them.) Now it is a celebratory thing, but God starts off by saying this: "The Lord said to Joshua, 'Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you." And then they go on to eat, right? So again they're feasting and celebrating because the shame is taken away. 

Now, their shame in the Exodus or their shame in Egypt is not as great as their shame, you know, five hundred years later in the Exile, when they have the Promised Land stripped from them. When God lets Babylon crush Jerusalem, scattered the people, and take them off to exile in Babylon. That was very directly for their sins. We're told that was because they refused to listen. They refused to let go of their false gods. They continued to rebel again and again and again. So God basically spanked them and then put them in timeout. That was very directly for their sins. 

Going down to Egypt was not so much that. It wasn't like they're directly sinned. I mean there's some of that: Jacob had twelve sons; ten of the twelve sons sell one of the other two down to Egypt. But that's not why they're in Egypt. We're told they're in Egypt really for God's purposes, and they lived there [peacefully] for 400 years. But if you've been in slavery, if you've been, you know, under someone else, and you're supposed to be this great nation, you couldn't help but have "reproach" as it says, by having that shame. You've been answering to someone else. You don't have an identity. You don't have a people. And actually they're lucky that they survived as a people. Which goes back to what we heard in the prodigal son idea: "Why are we rejoicing and celebrating?" He said, "Because what was once lost has been found; what was dead is now come back to life." 

The people of Israel would have felt like: "We were dead in Egypt. We had gone down there. We had lost ourselves. We lost our freedom. We lost our sense of identity, you know? We were basically nothing other than these slaves. We barely had a sense of ourselves, and now we've come back to life. Right. Israel's children are alive again and they're being brought in. And so how do they celebrate? With a meal, with the Passover meal. 

So this celebration comes in the form of: "Now we eat the Passover. Now we enjoy the work of somebody else's hands." Right? That's a fascinating line. Go on the right hand side, third line down: "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 the yield of the land of Canaan." 

 All other years they'd have to do their own planting and taking care of the fields and all that. This year they didn't. Someone else had planted those fields and they got to enjoy the benefit. They got to reap with somebody else so. So God is basically lavishing them with different things in that year to say, "This is my rejoicing. This is my celebrating. This is my feasting with you as I take away your reproach.". 

And even on the responsorial psalm —go one page forward; go to page 80— we've got "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord." Food, right? We've got a sense of eating. But also this idea of celebration. Very first line: "I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall be ever in my mouth. My soul shall glory in the Lord. The lowly will hear me and be glad." So there we go again: rejoicing and celebrating and eating. And then jump down to the last response the third one: "Look to him that you may be radiant with joy and your faces not may not blush with shame." There's that shame again, right? God takes away the shame, takes away the reproach, and then brings us that joy and that feasting. 

And if you wonder if that's actually in reference to God saving action, it seems to be. Go to the second paragraph there go to the second line of that. He says, "I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears." So God is a deliverer. God as a savior. God takes care of his people. He released them; he brings them back up. 

So all of those [themes] are sitting together in our minds here. You know, we get a lot of different ideas out of the Prodigal Son. We get a lot of different ideas that come to us. But this is one that we can really connect with because we as Catholics know the experience of having been away from God and directly reconciling with him through the Sacrament of Reconciliation —going back and reconnecting to our father— and then being admitted to the table again. Being able to eat again, being able to come to the Eucharistic banquet, that feast, in order to do that. 

We know that feeling of celebration, right? We've all been there, right? You know you have been a confession in a long time; you go to confession; you walk out... <big exhale> because a weight is off your shoulder. You're excited like, "I wasn't able to go to Communion last week because I hadn't gone to Mass the week before that, and so I needed to get myself right with God." You know, we're excited to be able to come back to that table. 

And especially if it's been a long long time, there's that sense of: being the son, in the faraway country, living outside of the father's family, living in distance, maybe even feeling truly lost and dead, feeling like we're in exile, feeling like we're slaves to sin—all those things of a greater distance. 

And then here he comes. He doesn't ask questions. He doesn't say, "Where have you been? What'd you do with my money?" He says, "I receive you. I give you my mercy. I bring you back." And so we've had that personal experience. 

So it's good to see that it's not just, "God forgives us; God has mercy on us," but that it's connected directly to the idea of taking away that shame, that natural shame, that comes to us when we know we've done wrong. The idea of the father celebrating over us that allows us to celebrate, us to rejoice being brought back into the household. And then finally the idea that, "How do we do that? We're brought back to the table, back to the feast, able to eat again with our brothers and sisters, able to enjoy that celebratory feast and know that this is God's great blessing." So it's cool for us to see the full context of the parable back then, but also to apply it fully to our lives now. 

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