4th Sunday of Lent (C) March 10 2013
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 the 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). 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 mans 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.