One of the most heart wrenching cries of the crucified Jesus is not recorded in the Passion according to St. John that we have just heard, but is in the Passion narratives according to Matthew and Mark. It is the first verse of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What shocking words from the dying lips of God’s own Son! Jesus’ cry is the prayer of a persecuted, innocent man, torn by affliction, yet trusting still in God His Father as His consolation and hope. For Jesus, and because of Him, for us and for the world, the cry of agony will give way to the Resurrection hymn of thanks and praise.
Foot washing was needed after a long journey but, in Peter’s mind and in the “wisdom of the day,” it was not to be done by the Master; it was the work of slaves or servants. Still, Jesus insisted, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Gathered with His disciples in an Upper Room, “He loved His own in the world and He loved them to the end.” Jesus did this by means of two sacred actions: by washing the feet of His disciples and then giving them His own Body and Blood. These two actions are woven together in the life of Jesus; and they can and should be woven together in our lives.
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” Obviously the Pharisees are offended by this little celebration. “I tell you,” Jesus replies, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” That’s quite a vivid image, isn’t it--stones crying out. Could an inert piece of stone on the ground cry out its adoration of Christ? And, if the stones on the ground had cried out, what do you think would have been their message on that first Palm Sunday? Let’s use our Catholic imagination for a few moments. What would be the message of those stones on that first Palm Sunday if they had cried out words of praise?
Today's gospel is the family story of a man and his two sons. At the beginning of the story we see that the younger son is the bad boy and the elder son the good boy. But by the end of the story we see that both of them in different ways prove themselves to be obstacles to the family unity and harmony which the father desired more than anything. We are all sinners. Whether your sins are more visible like those of the younger son or more hidden like those of the elder son, the message for us today is that we all need to repent and return to the father's house.
As a follower of Jesus Christ, what is one of the worst sins you can commit? The answer is to do nothing. Doing nothing, or in the case of today's parable, not bearing fruit, is the quickest way to disqualify you from the kingdom of God. Bearing fruit is something that all of us can do. We don’t have to have a university degree. We don’t have to be gifted in terms of leadership or technical abilities or gifted as speakers. All we need is Christ’s heart giving us compassion for the needs of others and the willingness to serve.
Temptation is very real in our lives--as it was real in the life of Jesus. We need to heed Christ’s teachings. Thoughts are connected to deeds. It is in our best interest, and in the interest of those we love, to pray that we shall not even be tempted. We need to recognize the destructiveness of sin in our lives and confront our susceptibility. Finally, we need to learn to rely on God, whose power is greater than the power of the tempter and can give us victory over every evil.
Why are you here on this Ash Wednesday? Why do you desire to be marked with the blessed ashes in the sign of the Cross? It’s one thing to wear a Cross around your neck or have one smudged on your forehead. It’s quite another to bear a Cross in your daily life. Bearing a Cross is an act of humility and service. Bearing a Cross is an act of contrition and commitment. Ultimately it is an act of devotion and love. It is not noisy in announcing itself to the world. It is silent, but sincere. Are you here for the right reasons?
Jesus doesn’t talk about things we store in our junk drawers. Instead, He talks about the things we store up in our heart (beliefs, prejudices, attitudes, habits, grudges, emotions); however, He doesn’t speak of them as junk. Instead, the Lord speaks of them as seeds--as seeds in a garden. These seeds don’t just lie dormant in the dark, collecting dust. According to Jesus, the things we store up in our hearts start to grow, and push through to the surface of our lives through our words and our actions. The question is not whether we will produce fruit in our lives or not. Bearing fruit is inevitable. Inescapable. The question is what kind of fruit will we bear from the storehouse of our heart, and how will it affect the world around us?
Jesus knew not everyone was going to listen to his teaching. The kind of love, generosity, and mercy that He expected from His followers---it doesn’t make sense! It’s risky! It’s asking us to give up our pride and our comfort. So, I hope you will leave Church today with your "GPS" programmed. Not the GPS in your car or your phone, but the GPS in your head and heart. I pray that you have programmed it with the love of Jesus Christ. That way you will truly represent Christ and make a difference in the world.