We have reached the Fourth Sunday of Lent, also known as Laetare Sunday. Like Gaudete Sunday in Advent, we rejoice this Sunday because Lent is almost over. The Entrance Antiphon, which we will not hear because we will sing an Entrance Chant, begins with “Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who are mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast.” This short passage from the prophet Isaiah (cf. 66:10-11) sets the stage for today’s celebration. In both the first reading from the Book of Joshua and the Gospel passage from Luke, we hear about great rejoicing as people return home. Isn’t that what Lent is all about? Let’s examine these readings.
I want to forewarn you, however, that you may not hear these readings this Sunday. The celebrant has the option to use the readings for Year A for weeks three, four and five of Lent and last week. Sorry about the possible confusion.
Anyway, let’s look at the readings for Year C. To fully understand today’s first reading, let’s begin by reading chapters 3 and 4. So, now you know the setting, with the people beginning their journey into the Holy Land at Shittim and ending at Gilgal and you’ll understand the meaning of “Gilgal.” Let’s examine Sunday’s passage:
Joshua 5:9a, 10 – 12
9 Then the LORD said to Joshua: Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you. Therefore the place is called Gilgal to the present day.
The place is called Gilgal: by popular etymology, because of the similarity of sound with the Hebrew word gallothi, “I have removed.” Gilgal probably means “circle,” i.e., the place of the circle of standing stones. Cf. 4:4–8.
10 While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month.
The month: the first month of the year, later called Nisan; see note on 3:15. The crossing of the Jordan occurred, therefore, about the same time of the year as did the crossing of the Red Sea; cf. Ex 12–14.
11 On the day after the Passover they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day
12 after they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
yield of the land of Canaan: with this comment, the author indicated that something quite significant is happening. These nomadic people, who had lived off the land and relied on the quail and the manna that God provided, were now going to grow their own food in their own land – again, as promised by God.
The similarities between this crossing of the Jordan and the crossing of the Red Sea are obvious; they are intended to show both that Joshua has the same authority as Moses did and to complete the journey that was begun at the Red Sea.
This homecoming of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob prepares us for the homecoming we hear about in this Sunday’s gospel. We are all familiar with this powerful Parable of the Prodigal Son, another passage that is found only in Luke. I’ve long wondered why this parable is called the parable of the prodigal son in English; in Dutch, German, French and Italian, it’s called the parable of the lost son. And, those of you who have the Catholic Study Bible see that this is the subtitle. When I think of “prodigal” I think of “prodigy” as in “she’s a real child prodigy,” which speaks of someone with extraordinary talent or ability. The father in this story has extraordinary generosity and forgiveness. So, I’ve long thought it should be the parable of the prodigal father. Of course, if you look up the word “prodigal” you can see that either title would fit: “wastefully or recklessly extravagant; giving or yielding profusely; lavishly abundant, profuse.
I also want to point out the context for the sinners mentioned in the first verse: it’s a situation of “them” versus “us” with the Pharisees and scribes complaining about the tax collectors and sinners who were drawn to Jesus. Jesus addresses this with the two sons in the parable. Let’s examine the pericope to get as much from it as possible.
Luke 15: 1 – 3, 11 – 32
1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him,
2 but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Pharisees and scribes began to complain: we see this in Mt:9:10 as well. In both passages, you can hear the disdain of the Jewish leaders; how could Jesus, who was a holy man, lower himself to associate himself with tax collectors and sinners? In Matthew, we hear Jesus’ response. In Luke, we hear three parables; we will only hear the third one on Sunday but let’s just quickly review the first two.
3 So to them he addressed this parable.
4 “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?
5 And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy
6 and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
7 I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.
8 “Or what woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it?
9 And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.’
10 In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
So, we have two brief parables – both very familiar to us – about the lost sheep and the lost coin. These two short accounts about rejoicing after finding something that is lost sets the stage for rejoicing in finding someone who is lost.
11 Then he said, “A man had two sons,
12 and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them.
share of your estate that should come to me: the son is, in effect, saying to the father, “I want you dead” as he asks for his share of his father’s estate. The father demonstrates extraordinary generosity in giving it to him. Of course, you realize that the father represents God, who is abundant in his generosity even as we go astray.
13 After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation: Here, we see that the son is prodigal, in the sense of being wastefully or recklessly extravagant.
14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.
15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
tend the swine: this would render the man ritually unclean so it was, indeed, out of desperation that the son does this.
16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.
17 Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger.
Coming to his senses: the Hebrew and Aramaic word that would be used here really means “he repented.”
18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
I no longer deserve to be called your son: the son realizes and recognizes the seriousness of his sin; here we see conversion as he becomes aware of his unworthiness before his father.
20 So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
While he was still a long way off: clearly, the father had been looking for him, longing for his return even though the son had taken his hard-earned wealth away from him.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him: for a grown man to run was considered completely undignified, but the return of his son was far more important than any supposed dignity.
21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
22 But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet: the father interrupts his son – he won’t even let him finish his prepared speech – and welcomes him back home, not as a slave but as his son, as is indicated by the robe, ring and sandals. Here, we see the father being prodigal, in the sense of being “lavishly abundant.”
23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast,
24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began.
25 Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing.
26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
27 The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.
He became angry: This anger, born out of self-righteousness, is echoed in the prayer of the Pharisee in the temple (cf. 18:9-12).
29 He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
everything I have is yours: the father has already given away the portion of his wealth that was allotted to the younger son to him, so everything else was to go to the older son. And yet, the older son was ungrateful.
32 But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Your son…your brother: this reminds me of parents talking about a child of theirs who is in trouble – he or she becomes “your son” or “your daughter.” But, the father calls the older son back to recognizing that this man was his brother and in need of mercy.
Both readings speak of returning home, being forgiven and welcomed. The Lenten season is a good time for us to repent, return home and hear God, our loving father, forgive us and welcome us home with lavish abundance.
2 Corinthians 5:17 – 21
In this passage from Paul’s second letter to the Christian community in Corinth, we hear Paul giving us a “before” and “after” account. He is reminding the followers of Christ that there is a big difference in their lives now that they are “in Christ.” And, it is all brought about by the reconciliation God has brought about through his son.
17 So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.
18 And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
This transformation is at the heart of the life of faith. It is much more than just bettering oneself. Paul tells us that being “in Christ” makes of the believer a “new creation.” This transformation means that the old order (death, sin and darkness) is replaced by a new order (life, holiness and light); this is made possible by God who has been reconciled to all of humanity “in Christ.”
Paul goes on to explain that we, who are “in Christ,” are now ambassadors for Christ and are to show God’s reconciling love to everyone we meet. This is such an important Lenten message. As God forgives us and welcomes us home, so we are to be the sign of his reconciling love in the world.
In these readings on Sunday, we hear how God’s people – both the ancient Israelites and the early Christians – and a prodigal son all find cause for rejoicing. As we approach the end of yet another Lenten Season and prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mystery – the life-saving death and Resurrection of our Lord – we, too, rejoice because of God’s mercy. What a great reason to celebrate!