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4th Sunday of Lent - Cycle C

Reconciliation.  We Catholics know this word through the Sacrament of Reconciliation… what we used to call “confession” or “penance.”  The act of approaching God, through the priest, to seek forgiveness of our sins.  To let go of the baggage that prevents us from being in right relationship with God and his Church.  That reconciliation is what allows us to share in God’s glory, but seeking that reconciliation can also can be our greatest challenge.

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

We open with a reading from the Book of Joshua.  Joshua, of course, the protégé of Moses who is tasked with leading the people into the Promised Land.  The passage opens with God telling Joshua “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”  What does that mean?  Some other English translations of the Bible use the word “disgrace” or “shame.”  In other words, shame of having to live in slavery has now been lifted.  The disgrace of having to wander the desert for forty years has ended.  Now, for the first time, standing in the Promised Land, they are truly free.  All previous sins are behind them as the look to a future with God in their new land.  They have been reconciled with God.  Their joy is reflected in our Psalm as we sing, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”

Our second reading is from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  Here Paul reminds us that through Christ, whatever we were before has passed away.  We are a new creation.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are reconciled to the Father… free of all past sins to live as ambassadors of Christ.

Our Gospel this week is a story familiar to many of us, and is unique to Luke’s Gospel… the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Jesus is speaking with a some tax collectors and sinners as group of Pharisees and scribes begin complaining about the company he is keeping.  In response, Jesus gives them three parables on this occasion… the Parable of the Lost Sheep (also found in Matthew), the Parable of the Lost Coin (also unique to Luke), and finally, the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  What is it that these three parables share?  They are meant to demonstrate the great lengths to which God is willing to go to gather us all back to himself.  The Pharisees and the Scribes are chiding Jesus for preaching to sinners.  Jesus is telling them that these sinners, in fact, are those in most need of his message… in most need of God’s love and mercy. 

In the parable itself, it helps to know who the characters are.  The father in the story represents God, knowing that his son is not making the best choices, but understanding of the fact that he must seek the truth for himself.  Even though the father lets him go, he is concerned, hoping and waiting for his son’s return.  The younger son represents the tax collectors and sinners Jesus has been talking with,  those who have made some poor choices in their lives, but to whom Jesus is reminding that it’s never too late to make changes… to come back to God.  The older son in our story represents the Sadducees and the scribes, those who have followed God’s will dutifully but feel cheated when the father throws a party for his younger son’s return.  Jesus is reminding the Sadducees and scribes that because they are already following God, their salvation is assured.  As the parable says, “…you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.”

Final thoughts:
The reason this parable is so popular is because it resonates so strongly with everyone.  We can easily relate to the younger son, eager to throw off his current situation and make his own way in the world.  Many of us can also relate to him when things go wrong and he finds himself in desperation.  We can also relate to the older son, following the rules, behaving responsibly, but yet feel cheated when so much effort is paid to those who initially chose to run off.  And then there those, mostly parents, who relate to the father in our story, feeling the pain of their separation and their eternal hope that they will see the error of their ways and return.  This story has something for everyone, but during this Lenten season we are challenged to model the reconciliation in our readings.  To seek forgiveness.  To offer forgiveness.  To show mercy and to rejoice in the goodness that is God.


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