Here is my homily for Sunday, March 29, 2009 – the 5th Sunday of Lent. The readings can be found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/readings/032909a.shtml. Thanks for reading! Fr Jim
In the late 1800s, there was a wealthy English philanthropist named Jeremy Bentham. In his will, he left a fortune to a London hospital. But there was one odd condition to the bequest: The hospital could keep the money only so long as Bentham was present at every board meeting. So for over 100 years, the remains of Jeremy Bentham were wheeled into the board room every month and placed at the head of the table. And for over 100 years, the minutes of every board meeting included a line which read, “Mr. Jeremy Bentham, present but not voting.”
Present, but not voting – just there. As we look around our world, our families, our workplaces, ourselves, that idea might not be so foreign – present, not voting.
Yet, every life worth living, every great work, has a price that has to be paid. And whatever that price is, it always involves letting go of something we value. That’s what Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel when he’s saying that unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat – but if it dies it produces much fruit. Whether it’s a grain of wheat or a seed – they have a miracle locked up inside it: They have the capacity to become something greater – the seed becomes a noble tree or a gorgeous flower or a tasty meal for someone. But it can’t become any of those things if it stays on the shelf in its nice, dry little envelope.
It has to let go of that comfortable spot and get down into the dirt where it’s dark and damp. It has to let go of being a little seed, if the miracle is to happen. This comes as the prelude to the celebration of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection which we begin next week with Palm Sunday – And the message is for all of us as well as Jesus – To complete his work, he had to let go of everything, even his very life.
How and what we have to let go of takes different shapes for each of us. For the battered wife or the man who’s grown hopelessly stale in his job, it may mean letting go of security and status, and moving on. For the couple whose marriage is foundering, it means staying put but letting go of old habits and ideas that have got in the way. Whatever the situation might be, clinging to things as they are and refusing to let go will inevitably rob us of life and steal away all of our joy – all because we’re afraid of losing what we have, though it may be as tiny and insignificant as a seed.
Knowing when and what to let go is not easy. And finding the courage to do it is even harder. Only one thing makes it possible: Our connectedness to Jesus – who will help us see ourselves clearly through his eyes, and then help us act with his strength.
This last week of Lent, the gospel challenges us with the reality that God wants us to have life and joy to the full. That can’t happen if we’re going thru life simply “present – not voting,” not moving, not changing – not responding to His grace in our lives. So that we don’t miss the best parts of life, this last Sunday of Lent, God is challenging us to ask ourselves: What am I clinging to that is robbing me of life? What am I afraid of letting go of?