Your Sins Can be Forgiven
March 21, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12) Reading II (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Gospel (St. Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
In the readings today, we see the same basic theme in all three readings, that is, going from one state to another. In the first reading from the Book of Joshua, we hear about the people of Israel. After having wandered for forty years out in the desert because of their sinfulness, they have now crossed into the Promised Land. As soon as they crossed into the Promised Land and they ate the fruit of that land, the manna that God had miraculously provided for them everyday for forty years ceased because now they were able to eat of the fruit of that Promised Land. In the Gospel reading, we hear about the Prodigal Son who goes off to a pagan land, squanders all of his father’s money, and then finally, we are told, comes to his senses and comes back to be reconciled with his father. In the second reading from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, we are told that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. And then at the end of the reading, Saint Paul says something which is quite startling, he says: He Who knew not sin was made sin for us so that we could become the very righteousness of God in Him.
And so we need to begin by asking ourselves, “How is it that this exchange happens? How is it that Jesus can become sin and we can become the very righteousness of God?” At the moment of the Incarnation when Jesus took our human nature in the womb of His mother, in taking on our human nature He took on each one of us. He knew the reason why He came, because He is God from all eternity and He is God in the womb of His mother. So in taking on our human nature, the very purpose for which He accepted that nature was to be able to free us from our sins. And while He never sinned once, not even was there the slightest imperfection – bad thoughts, impatient thoughts, anything – in our Lord. Nevertheless, what He did was to take our sins to Himself. In His human nature, He nailed our sins to the Cross. He took them on Himself, and he put the enmity between God and us to death on the Cross.
At the same time, He allows each one of us to share in His divine nature. At the moment we are baptized, we become members of the Mystical Body of Christ. So there is this exchange that happens. As members of the Mystical Body, He takes us on with all of our sins and we are incorporated into Him, Who is without sin, He Who is God and is the very righteousness of God Himself. Jesus, Who is God from all eternity, takes on a human nature; we, who are human, share in the divine nature. We are elevated then to a divine level of acting and being by being a member of Jesus Christ so that we no longer have to be stuck in our sins; but rather, freed from sin, we are able to live according to the Will of God. We are able to be raised up to the very righteousness of God Himself.
This is something that is difficult for many of us to accept because the devil is going to be right there to let us know how horrible we are. “Look at what you’ve done!” he will point out, “You’re worthless! You’re no good! You’re unlovable! You’re unacceptable! God doesn’t want you!” Tragically, we believe that vile creature’s lies, and so we stay away from God by our own free will. Like the Israelites of old (who did not want to be reconciled with God), we wander in the desert for years because of our own sinfulness. And for so many of us, all it takes is to come to confession and to stop sinning. But because the devil convinces us that we cannot get out of our sins, or that we cannot be forgiven because our sins are too big even for God to forgive, that we are so horrible and we are so despicable that nobody – including God – would ever want us, we wander in the desert and we eat not of what God wants to give us, but we eat of something that we do not even know because it is beneath us. God wants us in the Promised Land, in the fullness of grace. But we stay away. Like the Prodigal Son, we want to wallow with the pigs, and we want to eat the filth that the pigs are eating. That is, we want to stay, sometimes, in mortal sin rather than being reconciled with the Father.
Now when we consider this parable of the Prodigal Son, we need really to look very seriously, not so much at what the son did, but rather at the father’s response. By law, what could have happened is that the townspeople should have gone out to meet this boy as he was coming back home. Knowing what he had done in bringing dishonor upon his father, knowing that he had gone to a pagan place and now was ritually impure, the townspeople should have gone out and stoned him to death while the father barricaded himself in the house. But the law stipulates as well that if the father would go out and meet his son before the townspeople arrived and reconciled him then he would be restored to the family. And that is exactly what we see happening. The father, waiting for the son to return, watching for him all the time, sees him finally coming from a distance and runs to meet the son. He embraces him and kisses him, letting everybody in the town know: “You leave this boy alone because he is my son.”
But we notice also that what is important is the father allows the son to confess his sin. “I have sinned against heaven and against you, and I no longer deserve to be called your son.” The father did not tell the child, “You don’t have to tell me that. Just lie on your bed and think about your sins; that’s enough. I know what you did, so don’t tell me about it.” No, the father did not say that. The son had to confess his sin – and so do we. But the father is right there waiting, watching from afar. He tells his servant, as soon as the son confesses his sin, to bring out the finest garment and put it on him, which is sanctifying grace; to take away the mortal sin that is on his soul and clothe him in the grace of God; to put a ring upon his finger to restore his dignity and his citizenship; to put sandals on his feet because he is not a servant, but he is a member of the family, and therefore he is going to be clad not as a servant but as one of the children.
This is exactly what God does for us because Saint Paul tells the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven. God our Father wants us to be reconciled with Him. That is exactly what Saint Paul tells us in the second reading. God has made him an ambassador, and he calls out through Christ, Be reconciled with God! That is what God desires more than anything, and He has done everything for us to make it possible. He came to us. He took our sins to Himself and He nailed them to the Cross, making it possible for us to live according to the righteousness of God. So like that son in the Gospel reading, we need to look at ourselves and take stock of our situation. We need to realize that if we are in mortal sin that we are in the pigsty, wallowing with the swine and wanting to eat what they are eating, while in our Father’s house people are feeding on Jesus in the Eucharist.
And it tells us, as Jesus said, “When he came to his senses…” The same is true for us when we come to our senses and we say, “What am I doing here? I need to go back to my Father and I need to confess my sin.” Now that son knew that the townspeople could have come out. He knew that it may be that his father would say, “You vile little thing! Get out of here; I don’t want you!” But I ask you, which of you who are parents would do that to your child? Like the father in the story of the Prodigal Son, every parent here who has a child who has gone astray waits and watches. And the day you see that there is a change of heart in that kid, the door is going to be open, the heart is going to be open, the arms are going to be open to embrace that child and bring him back. And if we, with all of our sins, will treat our children that way, how much more will God, Whose love is infinite, Who has done everything for us to be reconciled with Himself, be right there to run out to meet us, to embrace us, to kiss us, and to bring us back to union with Himself?
As any parent would, as they wait and watch, they wait to see that moment when the heart of the child turns. God is doing exactly the same for us. All that is necessary is that we recognize that what we are doing is wrong, we turn our hearts, and we make the move to come back and confess our sins. God will do the rest. That is all He is asking of us: to make that change of heart, to confess our sins, to stop sinning, to begin once again to live according to our dignity, to be clothed with sanctifying grace, to have our citizenship in heaven restored, and to be once again shod with a childhood that is ours as children of God, the dignity that is ours as sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.
The only thing that separates us from God is either pride or fear; either pride in that we do not want to be restored and we want to wallow with the pigs and we want to stay in our sin, or fear that God might not want us back. Either way, it is a lie of the devil. And so when you look at your sins and the devil tells you that you are worthless, that you are no good, that you are unacceptable, that you are unlovable, that God does not want you, that God cannot forgive your sins because they are so huge, tell that vile creature to take a hike. Come back to God. Refuse to listen to the devil’s lies and look at the truth. Jesus Christ came and took your sins to Himself, all of them. The biggest sin that you can commit, the biggest and worst thing that you can even think of, is as nothing compared to the infinite mercy of God. Nothing that we can do is even close to being unforgivable. Everything that the devil tells you is a lie. Reject his lies, and listen again to the words of Saint Paul as he tells us that he has been made a co-worker, an ambassador for God, “as if Christ were appealing through us: Be reconciled with God!”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.