My hometown Patra is famous for two reasons, maybe three. It’s where the Greek Revolution officially began on 25 March 1821. But today it is most famous for its annual Carnival, Καρναβάλι, the best in Greece and one of the best in the world. It is almost as old as the Greek Revolution and reflects the huge Italian influence in the city’s appearance and lifestyle.
There is nothing like the Patrino Karnavali in any other Orthodox country. It lasts for many days, reaching its climax last night and concluding today with the grand parade of floats. The floats are like nothing you’ll see anywhere else, gargantuan homages to various stories and persons, including many that are satirical. As a child, I looked forward to the chocolates that were thrown from the various floats.
It’s a grand party to welcome Lent. And why not? Rio has its carnival before the Catholic Lent begins. New Orleans has its Mardi Gras. Everywhere, Lent is welcomed with partying, dancing, singing, lots of drinking and big parades. Lent begins at the end of partying and Lent comes to an end in order that we may enjoy an even greater joy, the joy of Easter, the joy of resurrection.
Why do we need Lent? For the same reason that we need Easter and resurrection. Lent reminds us of our fall from communion with God. And it is that communion and union with God that Jesus restored with his own passion and resurrection.
Every year we are given the opportunity to renew our connection with God. We drift away every day that we are alive. We miss the mark – the στόχος of our existence. This is what sin is. We miss the mark, we fall short, we fall behind. Lent comes around to help us catch up.
Catch up to what, to whom? To whom might be the better question. To Jesus of course. He walks in front of us, showing us how he lived and walked 2,000 years ago, in a society that had as many problems as our modern world has. And the biggest problem then is the same as today. As I said last Sunday, it’s all about seeing – seeing the other person, the person in need, seeing our own need for God and for each other. Blindness is our problem. That’s why the first and second commandments are what they are; You shall love the Lord your God… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. We love God because we need God; we love the neighbor because we need the neighbor!
We need each other. We need Christ in our lives. So we party to be with each other. And when we are with Christ it will be another party, much grander than anything even Patra can throw together.
Three parables have brought us to this Sunday:
Three weeks ago, the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
Two weeks ago, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.
Last week, the Parable of the Last Judgment (the Sheep and Goats).
All three parables tell us important truths about our life with God and with each other. Finally, today’s Gospel reading tells us we need forgiveness. Like the Pharisee, we act with pride and hypocrisy. Like the Prodigal Son, we drift far from God. And like the goats at the Last Judgment, we are self-centered and ignore those who need our compassion.
Notice the sequence: pride and hypocrisy ☛ lead to distance from God ⥤ result in self-centered lack of love for others. This is how we miss the mark of our purpose for existing. Lent is about bringing us back to our true selves. It’s an invitation to come to ourselves, like the prodigal son did, before it’s too late and we end up like one of the goats. And just like the prodigal returned to a party, so also there is joy in God’s house when every one of his prodigal sons and daughters returns.