Fourth Sunday of Lent Year C

Theme: Forgiveness

Frequently during this holy season of Lent we tend to gravitate toward the wrongs we have done and omissions we have incurred. While it may be tempting to engage in this practice of negative navel-gazing, the mercies of God calls us to cultivate a more positive attitude since no sin is so huge to stop God’s love from reaching a sinner.

First reading: Joshua 5:9, 10-12

Upon their arrival in the land of Canaan, the Israelites were instructed by God through Joshua to remember no more the reproach of Egypt. Instead of dredging up the memories of suffering and the failures of the desert days, they were to celebrate their Passover to freedom and renewed union with God. Although the Holy Bible and longstanding tradition represent the Israelites settling in Canaan as the result of a conquest, some archaeologists and historians have suggested that the Israelites tactfully immigrated to the land of Canaan and were gradually assimilated into the culture during a period of declining Egyptian influence. These Israelite revolutionaries constituted a class of hard working city dwellers and peasant farmers who attacked and took control of several Canaanite cities. This ‘smart war’ as waged by the Israelites is clearly reflected in the book of Joshua and in the military accomplishments of its chief protagonist.

After succeeding Moses, Joshua was directly commissioned by God to lead the people militarily, as well as in faithfulness to the covenant. For that reason, Joshua is portrayed presiding over Israel’s first Passover celebration in the land of Canaan. At that celebration they ate from the fruits of their own labours in their fields and from among their flocks. Because they had evolved from a nomadic to a sedentary society, they were no longer dependent upon the manna God had provided in the wilderness. Though reasonably independent, this did not lessen their need for reliance on God but provided an opportunity for them to cooperate more actively with God who alone was blessing them. While in Canaan the Israelites were forever grateful that they were no longer slaves. God had personally delivered them from that shame. The food they longed for while trekking the desert now was personal and in plenty. Like the Israelites, we need to read our history with eyes of hope because with God on our side we are passing over to goodness.

Second reading: 2Corinthians 5:17-21

Paul evokes all believers to let go of the old ways of sin and embrace new life in Christ. The great Apostle was so convinced of the rebirth that comes with living in Christ that he called baptized believers ‘a new creation’. Paul was also convinced that those who were reconciled to God had become part of an ongoing process of reconciliation that extended to others through them. There is a sense of exhilaration that comes with being forgiven and this joy is contagious. Prior to his conversion, Paul represented the Jewish authorities. In their name, he devoted himself to preserving their creed and traditions. Included in Paul’s efforts was a systematic attempt to put an end to what he believed to be the heresy of Christianity. For that reason, as Luke has attested that “he entered house after house and dragging out men and women and he handed them over for imprisonment” Acts 8:3.  After his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul surprised many by putting his former way of life behind him and embracing Jesus forever.

Believing in Jesus means believing in his saving process that appropriates grace, faith and salvation. This is what Paul means by being in Christ. Moreover, those who are incorporated into the saving action of God in Christ are thereby responsible for witnessing to these graces with their lives. Paul describes this witness in terms of being “an ambassador for Christ” 2Corinthians 5:20. Ambassadors have full power to speak fully for those they represent. As believers we testify that forgiveness is a reality and that reconciliation is a fact. Paul concludes this exhortation by insisting that Jesus achieved the reconciliation of all peoples to God by ‘becoming sin’. More literally translated, the term hamartia is actually “a sin sacrifice” 2Corinthians 5:21. Although he did not know sin, Jesus fully embraced the contradiction and alienation of sin in order to make whole and holy those who had been enslaved by sin. For Paul, the sin of sacrificing Jesus on the Cross marked the dividing point between the old and the new orders, between the darkness and light, between death and life. We are now alive.

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Nowhere is joy more poignantly expressed than in today’s Gospel. The person we have come to call prodigal is never named. Perhaps his anonymity makes it easier for us to see something of ourselves in him. His life, by his own choice, had spiraled down until it seemed that he could fall no further. He could have remained there, at the lowest point, wallowing in self-pity and self loathing. He may have thought that he deserved his desperate situation and no one would have disagreed with him. But there in that pigsty he decided to let go of his sinful past and tried for a new beginning. At this turning point we are told that, “he came to his senses” Luke 15:17. Rather than dwelling on himself and the mess he had made of his life, the son began to think of the goodness and love of his father. This thought enabled him to let go of what he had become and entrust himself to his father’s mercy.

This uniquely Lucan parable is the final and most important in a trilogy about things that were lost and then found. Contextually, the parable of the wayward son represents Jesus’ response to those who objected to him welcoming sinners and eating with them cf. Luke 15:2. This habit of Jesus was particularly repugnant to those who regarded sinners as unclean and unworthy of associating with the righteous. Eating at the same table was even more distasteful, as it signified a bond of friendship that the Pharisees and scribes did not wish to share with sinners.

Through his three parables, Jesus illustrates God’s love for the lost and the divine desire to welcome home those who have gone astray. In fact, no other parable portrays more expressively the fact that God operates a lost-and-found department, and yet none of the typical vocabulary of conversion or repentance appears here. Luke allows the power of the story itself to communicate the message. While most scholars support the traditional understanding of the statement ‘coming to his senses’ as a posture of repentance on the part of the prodigal, I could suggest that this action be understood in light of Luke 15 as a whole. In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus redefines repentance as ‘acceptance of being found’. With great effort, the shepherd and the woman find their lost sheep and coin. Thus, repentance is something that is done for the believer; it is a grace that touches sinners with love and calls them home.

When the son returned home, the father run; he kissed, he embraced and prepared a celebration saying “this son of mine was dead and has come to life again” Luke 15: 24, 32. When the Pharisees and scribes heard this statement, their reaction was probably not unlike that of the elder brother who compared his actions with his brother’s and insinuated “this son of yours” Luke 15: 30 did not deserve reconciliation. Even though the father assures the disgruntled and selfish son that he is the heir of the estate “all I have is yours” Luke 15:31, he was not satisfied and refused to yield to joy and would not share in the celebration. The lesson for us during this Lenten season is that God awaits our homecoming with open arms and teaches us that the essentials in the process of reconciliation and forgiveness lays in the willingness to let go and leave the past behind. Without such baggage, the one who seeks forgiveness is able to welcome God’s mercy with empty and open arms with space to carry the newly found treasure.

Application

Ernest Hemingway wrote a story of a Spanish father who wanted to reconcile with his son, who had run away to Madrid. The father placed this advert in the newspaper: ‘Paco, all is forgiven, meet me at Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday. Papa’. When the father went to the hotel on Tuesday, he found the hotel square filled with 800 boys and girls named Paco waiting for their fathers. We are all these boys and girls that God our parent is looking for. God want us to allow Him to love us. All we have to do is to respond to His forgiveness. I hope you are convinced now to give my suggestion a chance. Come home and that is all that is expected from you today.


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