4th Sunday of Lent (C) March 6 2016

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue:

Theme of readings: Return to Christ and his Church, the inheritance that belongs to you.

First Reading (Joshua 5:9-12). The people of God keep the Passover on their entry into the promised land. Israel spent forty years in the wilderness, a barren land in which they had they manna as nourishment. They were now on their way to the possession of the land of Canaan, the land of promise, which had been promised to their fathers, Abraham and his children, as an inheritance. Having crossed the Jordan they had, in a sense, arrived at their destination. As God’s covenanted people they were required to have the sign of the covenant, which apparently they did not have during the wilderness, and possibly in Egypt. Now with this new beginning in the promised land they underwent circumcision. The “shame of Egypt”, possibly meaning the absence of circumcision in that country, but also the oppression and forced labour, had been removed from them as the Lord is reported as having said to Joshua. The next step was to celebrate the Passover, which they did in keeping with the rite laid down, with unleavened bread and roasted ears of corn. On eating from the produce of their new country, the manna stopped falling. They were henceforward to feed from the produce of the land. For them the wilderness days were over. We know that for the new Israel, en route through an earthly wilderness to the true land of promise, a new manna will be provided, the Bread Life, Christ in his person and in the Eucharist.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 33[34]). Taste and see that the Lord is god.

Second Reading (2 Corinthians 5:15-21). God reconciled us to himself through Christ. To understand the present reading better it is best situate it in its position in the opening chapters of this letter to the Corinthians. Paul is caught between two concerns, that of his understanding of the new life in Christ, a “new creation”, and the very humanly-minded problems within the Corinthian community, created in part by adversaries of his person and mission. There was tension between the Corinthian community, or this particular group within it, and Paul. He was accused of not being honest, or transparent in his words and actions. Paul pays attention to their position, but will not be distracted from his rich presentation of the Christian mystery, of the new covenant in Christ and the transforming work of the Spirit. At one point, given their attitude towards himself who had founded the Church there, he writes: “Do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on your hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter from Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:1-3). Paul stresses his central Christian belief that with the resurrection of Christ a new world, a new creation, has come. Paul may have once considered Christ “from a human point of view” (literally “according to the flesh”), the “Jesus of history”, as a person of this world in all its limitations, condemned as a criminal. Paul’s belief in Christ’s resurrection has changed all this. He no longer regarded Christ or any one from a human point of view (“according to the flesh”). This is the background to the present reading. Union with the risen Christ means a new creation; the old, without the marvels of grace or the transforming work of the Spirit, has gone. Paul explains what he means. The new creation through the death and resurrection of Christ means the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation between God and humans. Paul and the church are ambassadors of this message. Through him, and the church, God is calling for reconciliation – through admission of sin, and friendship in society, including the Corinthian church and Paul. God the Father made the sinless Christ to be a victim of sin (literally “made him into sin”) that believers in him might be freed from sin (“become the goodness of God”).

Gospel (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32). Your brother here was dead and has come to life. The Gospel text read today is generally known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son”. Others in view of its ending prefer to call it the “Parable of the Prodigal Father”. It is informative to examine it in its original setting in Luke’s Gospel, where it is the third of three parables told by Jesus to tax collectors and sinners. The tax collectors most probably were toll collectors, on goods entering into Galilee at one of the designated entry points, such as Bethsaida. The sinners in question would designate a broad group who rejected, or were not over-observant of, the Jewish law and customs as understood by the Pharisees and learned scribes trained in Jewish and civil law, and generally favourable to the Pharisee positions. Jesus’ known familiarity and even meals with these toll collectors and sinners was strongly objected to. To make clear his own, and the Father’s, position on this matter Jesus tells three parables, all having to do with “the lost and found” and the joy in heaven after the find. First there is the parable of the loss and finding of one sheep out of a hundred (Luke 15:3-8), the loss and finding of one coin out of ten (Luke 15:8-10), and finally our parable of the loss and finding of one son out of two, having many scholars today name it the parable of the lost (or: lost and found) son. The parable itself is more or less self explanatory. For reflection on it see below.

B. Reflection & Dialogue with Questions of the Day

Return to Christ and his Church, the inheritance that belongs to you.

Today’s liturgical readings present ample material for reflection. We can dwell on three- one on each of the readings.

(1) It’s a long long way from the Book of Joshua, from Gilgal, the eating of the fruits of the land and the New Testament and today’s world. In one sense with these events the people of Israel had reached their promised land, “possessed the land” at least in theory, the possession which could be described in other texts as “entering into their rest”, or resting place, With the passage of time “the land” became identical with the inheritance, and so it would be understood in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the meek, for the shall possess the land” (sometimes paraphrased as “get the land for inheritance”, or “inherit the earth”). This rest, or resting place, this inheritance, remained something to look forward to, even for Christians, as they listen to the voice of God, inheritance in Christian living on earth, and with the blessed in eternity.

(2) Shortly before retiring Pope Benedict XVI reminded Christ’s followers in the modern age that the Church is in the world but not of it. His words reflect Paul’s message to the Corinthians of the second reading. The Church is a new creation. In faith matters it cannot be assessed by purely human standards. The media are interested in a limited range of Church matters, such as scandals, sex issues, weaknesses in Church administration. Such media attention should not take believers from paying attention to the central message of Christian life and practice, such as the living person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, God’s grace, prayer, the sacraments.

(3) Let’s reflect on the parable in this day’s readings. It is a rich family, with two sons. When the younger requests his part of the inheritance, the father respects his independence and makes the division. The son may have abandoned his Jewish heritage. In any case he went into, or ends up, in pagan territory where swine were reared. After squandering his inheritance he repents, and sees that his original Jewish heritage was better. His father is represented as anxiously awaiting his return and receives him back without conditions, and with joy. The elder son’s reaction is humanly speaking understandable, but is not that of a loving earthly, much less heavenly, Father.

                This parable of the Prodigal Son resonates with people of all generations. Today it can be reflected on by persons who abandon the Church or Christianity, to reflect on their situation, and return to a loving and forgiving God, a God who is always on the look out for their return. The loving father laid down no conditions for return, but of course the prodigal had already repented. In today’s Church and world, receiving the errant back with open arms, without conditions, is fine in theory but may present difficulties from a concerned society. Divine forgiving love and the realities of human existence have to be borne in mind.

The following readingg from year A of the three-year cycle may be used as alternative readings

Fourth Sunday of Lent Year A

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)


B. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus and the Church the light of the world.

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (1 Samuel 16:1,6-7,10-13). David is anointed king of Israel. This reading tells how God chose the youthful David, son of Jesse, as king. He sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David. It is from the Hebrew word for “anoint”, mashach through the Greek that the word “Christ” (“anointed”) comes, while the Hebrew itself has given us the word Messiah. By a word from God Samuel had already anointed Saul as king of the northern tribes of Israel, but he failed as king and was set aside by God. This present reading stresses that God freely chose David, not because of any particular physical traits on David’s part. This anointing of David was really only a symbolic act which would take effect only years later. David spent some time serving in Saul’s army before his own clan elected him as king of Judah. After the death of Saul he was elected as king over the united kingdoms of Judah and Israel. God made a covenant with David that his dynasty would last forever, and despite the vicissitudes of history this faith and this hope led to the messianic expectation which was fulfilled in Jesus. That anointing of the youthful David, son of Jesse, by Samuel gave rise to the age-long expectation for the coming of the Son of David which will have its reply by Jesus, the Son of Man, who in today’s gospel reading tells the man cured of his blindness concerning himself: “He is speaking to you”.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 22[23]). The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Second Reading (Ephesians 5:8-14). Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you. Jesus told his disciples that they were the salt of the earth and the light of the world. The early Church took these words of Jesus seriously, as is clear from the letters of Paul and the other New Testament writings. This message of Christ was to be proclaimed both in the teaching and the practise of Church life. Most of the early converts came from paganism, and this, with its beliefs and practices, were regarded as darkness. This approach was expressed in the rites of baptism which was presented as a passage from the darkness of paganism to the light of the Gospel, or perhaps rather as union with Christ who was the life and light. This new Christian life was to bear witness to the world of the Gospel values, a new life that would show forth the effects of the Christian light, seen in complete goodness and right living and truth. The implications of these principles would have been spelled out in the catechesis with an indication of the virtues to be practiced and the vices and weaknesses to be avoided. There is stress on transparency. Christians should be aware of the evils in the world on which the Gospel truths shed light, but, by implication, also of the weaknesses and sins in the Christian community itself. At the end of the reading there is a verse, or half-verse, most probably taken from an ancient Christian hymn, now lost, possibly a baptismal hymn. At baptism it would have been addressed to the new converts to awake from the sleep. or metaphorically from the death, of their former life to the new Christian life enlightened by Christ. For Christians in their post-baptismal life, the hymn could serve as a call to awaken from torpor to a new awakened life in the light of Christ.

The Gospel (John 9:1-41). The blind man went off and washed himself, and came away with his sight restored. Today’s Gospel reading is a lengthy one, in which there are different episodes, linked together by a central theme which is Christ as the light of the world. It is taken from John’s Gospel, and this evangelist tends to narrate at two levels, linking an earthly episode with a religious interpretation. This was so in last Sunday’s reading about the Samaritan, the well of Jacob and the water of life that Jesus would give to believers. The reading today is about the man born blind and Jesus as the light. In the mind of many in the time of Jesus (and possibly in that of some still today) physical deformity was seen to be caused by sin, whether of the parents, or of the sufferer, in this case of the child still in the womb. Jesus denies that this was so, and says that in this case the blindness is for the glory of God which will be revealed in the healing to come. Jesus then gives give the theme of this episode in his words that as long as he is in the world he is the light of the world. It was thought at that time that spittle had some medicinal qualities. In keeping with this Jesus mixes mud with his saliva and put the paste over the blind man’s eyes, without effecting a cure. He tells the blind man to go to the well-known pool in Jerusalem called Siloam, where he would be healed. John is careful to point out that this name means “Sent”, in Hebrew and Aramaic (from the verb shalach). For John, of course, the real Siloam, “Sent”, is Jesus, the one sent by the Father. After the blind man was healed questions follow as to how it happened, questions among his neighbours and friends, then among the Pharisees, one of whose concerns was the Sabbath rest, apparently violated by this healing which took place on a Sabbath. In all this the healed person bore witness to Jesus who healed him, as a man of God, to whom God listens. For him he was a prophet. The “Jews”, that is the religious authorities, then call in the parents of their healed son to get an explanation, as to whether he was their son and if so how his sight was restored. They affirm the first, but are wise enough to tell their questioners to ask their son himself with regard to the second, knowing (in John’s telling) that expulsion from the synagogue was decreed against anyone who professed faith in Jesus. (In the early years of the Church in Judea this was a reality.) The Jews next call on the man himself who was blind to give his evidence. He bears glowing evidence to Jesus, which infuriates the “Jews” who drove him away. Jesus heard of this and sought him out. When he found him, Jesus presented himself to the man who had been blind as the Son of Man, asking if he believed in the Son of Man. On being informed by Jesus that he himself was the Son of Man the cured man believed and worshipped Jesus. He was the example of one who had come from physical and moral blindness to Faith in Jesus. The reading ends more or less as it began, with an affirmation by Jesus that his coming into the world as light also brings judgment.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: Jesus and the Church the light of the world.

Three clear points emerge from today’s liturgy and readings and they give rich material for reflection on Christian life and our dialogue with the age in which we live.

            The first is that Christ is the light of the world. It is for this purpose that he has been sent into our world by his heavenly Father. He was “the One Sent”, the Siloam, who cured the man born blind. He came so that the world might have a vision of the glory of the Father. That is clear from today’s Gospel reading, and from many other places in the New Testament.

            The second point is that all this is not just for the lifetime of Jesus on earth. He chose apostles and disciples so that the Good News would be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, and to the end of time. The followers of Jesus are sent out to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. That is how the Church understood and preached the Gospel from the beginning. The Church is the universal sacrament and mystery of salvation in its teaching and in the lives of the faithful.

            This takes us to the third point: the dialogue of the Church with herself and with the world of our own day. The church must constantly renew herself, to live as the second reading calls for, from a Christian light that is seen in complete goodness and right living and truth. Very often today when mention is made of Church renewal, renewal of church structures is what is intended, especially of the Vatican and its curia. While such reform is called for, where necessary, the renewal in keeping with today’s reading is not quite that. Rather is this renewal in question a change in the minds and religious practices of the faithful in keeping with the Gospel message, to bear witness to Christ, the light, in the world in which we live. A matter worth mentioning here in the question of dialogue with our age, but one not to be developed here now, is that many moderns believe that what New Testament readings and Christians regard as light, are in their view darkness, old-fashioned views and practices.

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