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Lent 4 (C)
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Readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

1. Joshua 5, 9-12

  • The Lord said to Joshua, Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.  I hear how God keeps promises, leading the people into the land.  What I read today is not just an old story about just another migrating people.  It is also and especially a celebration of the God who accompanied this people on its journey to this place, Gilgal on the plains of Jericho.
  • While the Israelites were encamped, they celebrated the Passover.  So the people makes its own thanksgiving, remembering all the great works done in its favor.  Wherever the seder is celebrated today, in camps, condos or community centers, the memory is kept alive.  God brought them here.
  • They ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain.  The people may still be on the move, eating as they go, but now the land is sustaining them.  Three times I hear produce of the land, yield of the land.  I am being told to remember this great event, and also that the manna ceased after the Passover. 
  • I can’t help but compare the people’s eating the cereal grains of the promised land, with the land that is lost for growing in our own time because of home and mall construction, chemical and nuclear pollution, as well as land mines and cluster bombs.  My joy for the Israelite settlers must be mixed with grief for all who are displaced today by our march of progress and disrespect for the land. 
  • No longer was there manna for the Israelites.  The harsh and trying days in the desert have ended, to be replaced by a triumphant but more challenging chapter: They ate of the yield of the land of – (guess where?) Canaan.
  • Central point: The people celebrate the living covenant in a time of completion.
  • Message for our assembly: Do we believe that God keeps promises?  Are we willing to wait a while for fulfillment or do we give up too easily?
  • I will challenge myself: To breathe life into the narrative, to care about the narrative and its details.

 

2. II Corinthians 5, 17-21

  • Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.  Christians take a saint’s name as they are baptized, to indicate the new direction of their lives.
  • Reconciliation: I hear the word four times, beginning with God and ending with ourselves.  Let me repeat it and build to a climax with the appeal to be reconciled to God.   
  • Not counting their trespasses against them.  The theme of forgiveness is expressed twice in the reading.  The first time I hear it as it comes to us from the psalms, where God overlooks our betrayals.  The second time I hear a more decisive dealing with our sinfulness: For our sake he made him to be sin – who did not know sin.  I need the pause so that we will all feel the shock of the words.
  • The message for our assembly: Look at ourselves as Christ looks upon us.
  • I will challenge myself: To tie this passage to the Gospel story coming up.

 

Gospel. Luke 15, 1-3 and 11-32

  • A man had two sons.  We only hear the story in Luke, and if the scrutinies do not intervene today we will hear it twice this year.  If I tell it with meaning my listeners will want to hear it again and again, even though they know the story.
  • Since everyone thinks they know the story, how do I retell it so that they sit up and take notice?  Let me return to the beginning.  The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain.  Those were the ‘two sons’ to which the evangelist was referring.  Every homilist will find specific referents that fit the bill for the church today, but I will use these two groups in a generic way to achieve the same purpose.  
  • We are deep into Lent, so today I will pay attention to sin and repentance.  I note that there are no words of condemnation as we heard last week, but rather signs of awareness, contrition and above all celebration!  When was the last time we ended our group reconciliation with a feast, not to mention music and dancing?
  • After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off.  That could have come right from the tabloids, which right now are full of chatter about a ‘younger daughter’ with a grand inheritance – about whom not a few of my listeners have been wagging their index fingers.  Why not read this episode in the same spirit of outrage?
  • A severe famine struck that country  Now comes the downfall, and now I read in a spirit of comeuppance.  Who among the congregation would help someone so dissolute, someone who would probably return to their vices in a moment?  I remember that Pharisees past and present are listening.  
  • And he  l o n g e d  to eat his fill.  The young son is coming to his senses right here, and one good deed might turn things around.  That verb ‘longed’ needs some stretching.  I also notice that no one – gave him any.  Who are the ‘no ones’ in the assembly today?  Can I reach them with my attention to the text and my gaze?  Can I help bring them to their senses, too?  It is a story not just about two sons, but about onlookers and a father, too.
  • Father – I have sinned against heaven and against you.  He does not ask for forgiveness but just to return to the estate.  One word, ‘Father,’ and one pained look, will be enough.  But I need to rehearse until I attain a level of empathy.  The son cares only about the father and his goodness, which he now understands.
  • Let us celebrate with a feast.  We must celebrate and rejoice.  Even in Lent!  If we are disappointed by the redemption of the son, then we know who we are.  Jesus is about celebrating, eating with sinners.  And as I end the story I will look with insistence upon the assembly.  Again, is this what we do as a parish?  
  • Climax: I shall get up.  The son moves from humiliation to humility.
  • Message for our assembly: Of course we eulogize the faithful members, the happily married, the impeccably dressed among us.  But do we welcome those others who don’t quite fit?
  • I will challenge myself: To take this ‘nice little story’ and uncover the biting words that should challenge the church as it listens and absorbs the parable.

From Word to Eucharist: Let us remember in our own Eucharist the great work that the Lord is bringing to completion, that he wants to achieve in us.  Israel is more than just a foreshadowing, because from its history we learn the ways of God.

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