4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C–2019
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,
All three readings create a confluent theme: be reconciled to God. Lent is a joyful season in which to renew our relationship with God, to understand that we are sinners, and to know that His zeal for us is infinitely greater than our charged zeal for Him.
The Book of Joshua narrates the Chosen People entering the Promised Land. As Israel prepared for battle, Joshua had all the men of military age circumcised in keeping with the covenant. They could then celebrate the Passover for the first time in the Promised Land. The gift of Manna ends for them and they begin to eat the food of the land. The Chosen People have been reconciled to God and do not need a special food any longer. This reconciliation preceded the military attacks on Jericho; Jericho fell not from the military tactics but through an act of God with the obedient cooperation of his people: a fruit of reconciliation. God invited the Israelites (and now 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. Christ was sent by the Father to reconcile us to him. Christ took on our humanity and became the victim in a sacrificial act to enable us to be reconciled to the Father. To share in the bounty of Christ’s sacrifice, each individual must exhibit contrition and desire for interior and moral reform. May this time of Lent bring about a true change within us, as we witness with the parable of the prodigal son.
The Gospel today, from Saint Luke, is one of the most touching teachings of the New Testament. We can imagine the painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt van Rijn, perhaps one of the most recognizable works of art in the modern age, to help us visualize and internalize the story. 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. We see in action an infrequently used word: compunction. Just as the root of the word suggests, it is a puncture, a prick of sorrow. Essentially, compunction is contrition. And, contrition is a step along the process of reconciliation. The beautiful and intelligent Abigail, King David’s first wife, models for us the way to be reconciled with God. “She fell at his feet and said, ‘Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your handmaid speak in your hearing, and hear the words of your handmaid'” (1 Sm 25:24). The Lord will not spurn a contrite heart. A heart that has been softened and simultaneously punctured with the Word of God is precious in the sight of the Lord.
Like Abigail, let us acknowledge our sinfulness, our turning away from God. Compunction is a joyful sorrow that opens the floodgates of petitions for forgiveness, mercy and love. Let us be reconciled to God this Lent.