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Terrance KleinMarch 15, 2023
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Duke and Duchess of Sussex visit the track and field event at the Invictus Games in The Hague, Netherlands, Sunday, April 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

A Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a Ephesians 5:8-14 John 9:1-41

How easy is it to pick a monarch? If the Messiah stood right in front of you, would you know it? There is a congruence in our Lenten readings on this Fourth Sunday. The prophet Samuel selects young David to be king of Israel, while a blind man paradoxically can do what his people’s leaders cannot, which is to recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

It is easy enough to make a mistake about another’s identity. Indeed, that is the premise of Prince Harry’s bestseller Spare (2023), that, regardless of birth order, we have seriously undervalued and misunderstood this Duke of Sussex.

Two years older than me, Willy was the Heir, whereas I was the Spare.
This wasn’t merely how the press referred to us—though it was definitely that. This was shorthand often used by Pa and Mummy and Grandpa. And even Granny. The Heir and the Spare—there was no judgement about it, but also no ambiguity. I was the shadow, the support, the Plan B. I was brought into the world in case something happened to Willy. I was summoned to provide backup, distraction, diversion and, if necessary, a spare part. Kidney, perhaps. Blood transfusion. Speck of bone marrow. This was all made explicitly clear to me from the start of life’s journey and regularly reinforced thereafter. I was twenty the first time I heard the story of what Pa allegedly said to Mummy the day of my birth: Wonderful! Now you’ve given me an Heir and a Spare—my work is done. A joke. Presumably. On the other hand, minutes after delivering this bit of high comedy, Pa was said to have gone off to meet with his girlfriend. So. Many a true word spoken in jest.

The Gospel of St. John often employs great irony in the cause of evangelization. The man born blind, seeing more surely than those who are supposed to be sighted, is only one instance. Yet the prince’s book outpaces the fourth Gospel in pouring on the irony.

Spare is an ironic title for a ghostwritten autobiography. It begs the question: Who is superfluous? The prince, or his hired reporter, J. R. Moehringer? And if your claim is that journalists have ruined your life, is it not surely ironic to hire a hack to tell your story?

When do we overlook the presence of Jesus, treating him, as it were, as a spare? When does the Messiah stand before us, only to pass unrecognized?

This voice is supposed to be that of the prince. Appellations such as pa, grandpa and granny suggest verisimilitude—though, if accurate, I for one would have preferred that Windsor practice to have been passed over in silence. The queen called “Granny”? Please!

Obviously, none of us is charged, as Samuel was, with choosing a monarch. And the Messiah no longer walks among us, awaiting our recognition. So, what’s worrying the church? Why does she share two tales with us, one, about the missing the Messiah, and a spare story, about a prophet who makes the right call?

The Gospel question must be this: When do we overlook the presence of Jesus, treating him, as it were, as a spare? When does the Messiah stand before us, only to pass unrecognized?

Of course, all this is metaphor, the marrow of religious life. We are not looking for King David or Jesus of Nazareth. No, we are meant to look again at those whom the Good Lord brings before us as life-giving channels of his grace. Whom have we rejected, or at least ignored? Who are those who could be God’s gift to our lives if we had not already relegated them to the role of spare?

What a terrible, tragic irony for Prince Harry! His response to feeling shunned by his family is to reject them. His solution is a tell-all saga of self-justification. If we only knew how wrong his family has been in his regard, we would see how right he is to claim a title not unlike that of his mother, “The People’s Prince.”

Yet Harry does deserve our pity because he is the great exemplar of a mistake we also make: overlooking, even rejecting, the living channels of God’s love in our lives.

Harry understands how hard it is for ordinary folk to pity a prince, yet we should feel sorry for him. He has been given nigh everything, but it is not enough. He sees only what appears to be withheld and dwelling upon that he is willing to sweep his family away.

Yet Harry does deserve our pity because he is the great exemplar of a mistake we also make: overlooking, even rejecting, the living channels of God’s love in our lives. That was the blunder of Jerusalem’s leaders. The church does not want us to make the same mistake.

Ironically, even Harry’s story is a spare. It is only one more example of a mistake all of us continue to make. We miss the Messiah even when he or she stands in front of us. We cast the savior as spare.

Addressing the church in Ephesus, St. Paul adapted an oft-repeated line of the prophets (Is 51:17, 52:1, 60:1; Mal 4:2).

Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light (5:14).

Of course, this is metaphor. We are not literally asleep, and it is not light but insight that we require. Yet the admonition is so terribly apt if we cannot see the God who seeks to love us in those who share our lives.

Look again at those whom you have labeled your spares. Your savior may well stand among them!

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