4th Sunday of Lent, Year C
Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7 (8a)
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
March 27, 2022
The Israelites had been through much. Now under the leadership of Joshua, they have crossed the Jordan into the land in which the Lord had given them.
They had been slaves in Egypt until the Lord set them free. God parted the waters of the Red Sea as He led them out from slavery to freedom. Their passing through the waters of the Red Sea foreshadows the new life that God gives us in Baptism as He sets us free from slavery to sin.
As we struggle to trust God, the Israelites struggled when they had no food or water. God provided. He sent down the manna to fed them, not just once but the entire time they spent in the desert.
Now they have entered the land God is giving them. They celebrated the same Passover that they had been celebrating annually as a memorial, a perpetual institution since the first Passover. Then, they eat the produce of the land of which they have entered. God no longer sends down the manna. God provides food through the land they have entered.
Rescued from slavery, they became a new people. In Christ, we become a new creation. When we commit mortal sin, we break our relationship with God. We are reconciled through Christ as He gives his life on the Cross.
Receiving forgiveness ourselves, we are to share God’s message of reconciliation. We are to be “ambassadors for Christ” as we share the good news that Jesus has given his life so that our sins might be forgiven.
In today’s gospel, we hear the parable of the prodigal son. It is a familiar parable for many. The message it offers is how eager God is to forgive us.
It starts with the Pharisees and scribes complaining that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. In older times, the Israelites had been taught not to associate with sinners who would pull them into sin. However, that does not mean forgiveness is not possible. Jesus comes to rescue us from sin. We must avoid sin but we are also called to do what we can to bring forgiveness to others.
Generally, most people’s thoughts on this parable focus on the father and the younger son. The older son is forgotten. In this understanding, we see God as the forgiving father and ourselves as the younger son who lives a life of sin. Let’s try and go a little deeper.
The younger son goes to the father and asks for his inheritance. This is not simply a son asking a father for some money to start a new business or take a vacation. The younger son is essentially divorcing himself from his father and abandons his family.
Just as God allows us to make our own choices, even if they are bad choices, the father gives the son his inheritance and allows him to leave.
The younger son goes off. He does not act wisely. He could have planned ahead in how he spent the money. He does not. He squanders it on “a life of dissipation” until “he found himself in dire need.” How often might we choose to sin without ever thinking of the long-term consequences?
When he finds himself in “dire need,” he comes to his senses and returns home. He does not expect forgiveness. He only hopes for a decent job.
What he does not realize is how eager the father is for his return. As soon as the father sees his son “a long way off,” the father “was filled with compassion. He ran to his son and embraced him.” This is God’s response when we repent of our sins. From the grace offered in Jesus’ death on the Cross for us, when we confess our sins, God puts the “finest robe” on us as we are clothed in Christ.
When we commit mortal sin, we suffer “death”. This death is separation from God. God restores our life when we return with a contrite and repentant heart.
Yes, we may see something of ourselves in the younger son and his life of sin. However, we could also choose to be like the father, forgiving others who have wronged us. We can let go of the hurt and forgive them (for more on forgiveness see my recent webinar at www.renewaloffaith.org/healing2 ).
That’s two of the people in the story. We might also see something in ourselves of the older son.
The older son had tried to do everything his father asked of him. However, he was not forgiving of his brother like their father was. In fact, “He became angry” when he learned their father had welcomed his brother back. He had no forgiveness in him.
He even “refused to enter the house.”
Did the father reject him? No, just as the father was “filled with compassion” for his younger son, so too the father “came out and pleaded” with the older son to come in.
Maybe there is someone you do not want to forgive. Are you jealous of them just as the older son was jealous of his brother for the celebration the father had when he returned?
Forgiveness is not easy. That’s why we need grace to forgive. As we ask for forgiveness for our own sins, we ask for the grace to forgive those who trespass against us.