Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 22

Paul Levy: image by Boston Globe/Pat Greenhouse

I'm pleased that someone sent Paul Levy a link to my homily here and honored by his response (in the combox) and his reference to this page on his own blog, Running a Hospital.

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Lent

2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23
Ephesians 2:4-10
John 3:14-21

There certainly is some old time religion vocabulary in this gospel:
a serpent, condemnation, light in the darkness, evil and wickedness!

Then again, maybe there’s a need for some old time religion response
to what’s happening all around us.
The story of the economic crisis and the stories of spinning from it,
(tales of greed, schemes, reckless investments, bonuses, lies,
cover-ups and selfishness beyond what anyone might have imagined)
all painting a dark picture of human nature
and how easily success and wealth and desire for them
can become our idols.

Of course, it’s easy to point to names and faces in the news and accuse.
But in many ways, the news makers may be only ourselves - writ large.

What we desire, what we envy, what we hoard,
what we are willing to do to get what we want and where we want
may be determined less by the relative purity of our intentions
and more by the limits on what we have access to.

What would anyone of us have done
if offered one of those million dollar bonuses?

But there’s a brighter side, too.

Consider Paul Levy, the chief executive at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center,
who is working to cut the number of potential layoffs there
from more than 600 to about 150
through a combination of wage freezes,
salary cuts in administrative jobs, and benefit reductions.

The steps he’s proposing, which would save $16 million, include:
suspending the employer match for retirement plans;
withholding some raises and rolling back executive increases;
and eliminating cash payments for surplus earned time.

You might have seen an article in the paper recently
reporting on a meeting Levy held with employees
at which he asked if workers in higher level positions
would be willing to forego some benefits due them
in order to keep those in lower level jobs employed.
His question was answered by
“heartfelt, thunderous, sustained applause.”

That’s the brighter side of the dark picture I painted a moment ago.

- There are those who will take anything and everything they can get,
regardless of the impact on others.

- There are those who are willing to forego what is justly due them,
in order that others might not go without.

- And there are those who don’t really want to trample on others
but who are reticent, slow, not inclined, fearful of letting go
what’s rightfully theirs - for the sake of others.

If we weren’t followers of Jesus, then it would be easy to be generous:
some canned goods for the food pantry, a tag from the Giving Tree,
some coins in the Lenten Offering Box - that would suffice.

But we follow Jesus, who gave us the measure
by which we are to measure our giving –
and that measure is the Cross.

The employees at Beth Israel Hospital, may or may not be Christians,
but they certainly give us Christians a sign of the kind of giving
our faith requires of us.

It’s always easy to give from our surplus,
from what we don’t really need.
But the love of Jesus asks us to give from our want:
to give even when we don’t have enough to give
or when it seems we have nothing left to give.

Indeed, in today’s gospel we were reminded:
“God so loved the world, loved us,
that he gave his only Son…”

When you begin to think, even to pray in these terms,
then words like
eternal life, perish, born again, and truth -
these words take on meaning as never before.

The more this economy pinches and squeezes and drains us,
the more real will become the options faith sets before us.

What Jesus asked Nicodemus 2,000 years ago, he asks us:
- will you choose to perish or to live?
- will you prefer darkness or light?
- will you choose the wicked or the good? the lie or the truth?

We gather every Sunday at this table
where we are fed with the life of Jesus in the Eucharist,
fed with the life which is ours
because he gave of his life - until there was nothing left to give -
so that we might have life to the full.

May the sacrament we share here nourish in us
the love that gives freely of itself for the sake of others.



  1. Beautiful homily, really good.

    I loved hearing about Paul Levy and Deaconess too. A few months back I posted a Facebook thread that asked what folks would think about reducing their own salary to help save other jobs.

    Some people were for it and a surprising number were not.

    I wonder if their answers would be different today.


  2. Gets me back to a question I often ask myself.." What owns me? "

  3. Many thanks for this wonderful post. I borrowed it a bit on my own blog: http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2009/03/observations-on-value-driven-behavior.html

  4. As Christians, isn't what we're supposed to be about anyway?

    Nice post, Fr. Austin.

  5. And look! More here: http://runningahospital.blogspot.com/2009/04/peter-alexander-tells-bidmcs-and.html


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