4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C—2016

FIRST READING            Joshua 5:9a, 10-12

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”  While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month.  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 after the Passover, on which 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.

SECOND READING                  2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Brothers and sisters:  Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:  the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.  And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  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.

GOSPEL                Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  So to them Jesus addressed this parable:  “A man had two sons, 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.  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.  When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need.  So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.  And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.  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.  I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’  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.  His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’  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.  Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.  Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’  Then the celebration began.  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.  He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.  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.’  He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him.  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.  But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’  He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.  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.’”

My sisters and brothers in the Lord,

Perhaps this Sunday we can focus on a theme from the second reading, from the Second Letter to the Corinthians:  be reconciled to God.  All three readings today can be understood in the light of these words:  be reconciled to God.  We should be able to understand with Saint Paul that the world has completely changed because of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The first reading today is from the Book of Joshua, which is about the Chosen People entering the Promised Land.  As the Chosen People come to the Promised Land, the gift of Manna ends for them and they begin to eat normal food once again.  The Chosen People have been reconciled to God and do not need a special food any longer.  For you and for me, when we enter heaven, we will no longer need the Blessed Sacrament because we will live fully in the presence of God the Father, of Jesus Christ His Son and the Holy Spirit.  Just as Manna was food for the people during their time of traveling to the Promised Land, so also is the Eucharist our daily bread during our time living on this earth preparing for Heaven.

We need to note, however, as did Saint Paul in another place, that God was not pleased with many of the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land.  All of them had to die because of their unfaithfulness.  This is a sobering lesson for us today, who often presume that everyone will be saved.  The message is not that all will not be saved, but that God can be disappointed with us for not living in His love, which He freely gives us.  God invites us to be reconciled to Him.

The second reading tells us that Jesus Himself is pleading with us to be reconciled to God.  Always it should strike us that God wants us and yet so often we do not want God.  God is always willing to forgive and yet we want to continue in our sinfulness.  May this time of Lent bring about a true change within us.

The Gospel today, from Saint Luke, is one of the most touching teachings of the New Testament.  The characters are strong and clear:  a loving father who always forgives and shows love and never holds sins again his children; a son who doesn’t care about anything except himself and takes his inheritance and wastes it and then comes home; the older brother who has always been faithful but is now filled with resentment because the father loves his son who wasted everything.

When we hear this teaching, it is not meant so that we can judge others.  This is a teaching inviting you and me to repentance.  We need to recognize each of those sons in ourselves and we need to pray that we may be as loving and forgiving as the father.  This is being reconciled to God:  love all others, no matter what they have done, no matter if they hate you, no matter if they try to kill you, no matter if they make fun of you.  Love, mercy and forgiveness are the heart of following Jesus.

Forgive us our trespasses, O Lord, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Amen.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip