This Sunday, our Lenten readings remind us of God's extravagant love throughout salvation history. Our readings are about reconciliation - us to God and us to each other.
In our first reading (Joshua 5:9-12), the Israelites are spending their first day in the promised land, at Gilgal. Their weary years in the desert, eating manna, are behind them. It is now Passover in the promised land. God has removed the reproach of Egypt; now they eat of the land of Canaan.
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.
In our Epistle reading (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), St. Paul teaches us that we are a new creation as God reconciles us to himself in Christ. Similar to the Israelites celebrating their first Passover in the promised land, our old selves have passed away and we are a new creation. We are now called to share that blessing with the world.
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.
Our Gospel reading (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) is the parable of the Prodigal Son. The word "prodigal" means "having or giving something on a lavish scale" or "spending resources freely, wastefully extravagant." In this sense, it could be the parable of the Prodigal Father, over-the-top extravagant in his love. Or it could be the parable of the Two Brothers - one craving forgiveness and the other unable to give it.
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.’”
Which of the three characters in the parable can we identify with? Certainly, we can all identify with the repentant son - we've all been there at one time or another. But can we ever identify with the older brother, unforgiving of his father and his brother? Perhaps sometimes we can. Or can we ever identify with the extravagant loving father? Perhaps sometimes we can, or at least we should desire to. Perhaps, at times, we are all three. Lent is a time for reflection.
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