FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT
A New Creation
Our Judeo-Christian tradition is historically based. Our Scriptures trace humankind’s experience with God. In this, our religion distinguishes itself from nature-based religions. However, the Fourth Sunday, which speaks of the newness of the human spirit, occurs near the time of the vernal equinox—the day when the bright day and the dark night each last twelve hours. From this day forward, the sun will gain in power. This is spring; this is the time for nature’s re-creation. It is also time for the re-creation of the human spirit. We have reached the midpoint of Lent, the Church’s sacred springtime. This Sunday we rejoice that we are part of a new creation, of which spring is but a welcome hint.
First Reading: Joshua 5:9a, 10–12 Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:2–3, 4–5, 6–7
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17–21 Gospel: Luke 15:1–3, 11–32
The Scripture readings open with a Passover celebration. The forty-year sojourn in the intractable desert is finally over and the Promised Land of Canaan is in full sight. The Promised Land is a luxurious watered land that can sustain human life. It is a good place to put down roots. Here, on the brink of a new future, the people celebrate the great event of their past—Passover. They know that on the day after their celebration and for all the days to come, they will draw life from this generous land. Gone are the days of wandering, of squeezing a living from the desert, of living hand to mouth. Gone is the need for the miraculous manna. Here at hand is a new land, a new creation. Here is a dream come true.
And the best is yet to come. We, says Paul in the second reading, are a new creation. The old desert-dry life before Christ is over and done. In him and in his death and resurrection, we are all new.
This amazing grace also brings with it an amazing responsibility. We can see Paul pleading with us as he did with the small church at Corinth: be who you are! As persons reconciled to God in Christ, be the ambassadors of reconciliation to the whole world. The new creation into which we were incorporated at baptism is not for us alone. It is not an individual accomplishment or a lonely triumph. We are called to rejoice on this Sunday, not because Lent is half over, but because our redemption has been wholly won for us—for us together, that is.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the Gospel reading for today. We all know this reading by heart. Most of us have known it from our childhood. We have perhaps identified most strongly with the forgiven son. When we were children we breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude because we knew God would forgive us as the father forgave the errant son.
But there is also the understandable problem of the other son, the faithful and seemingly overlooked one who stayed home and tended to business. When he drew near the house after yet another day of hard work, he heard the piping music and saw the activity that told him that a celebration was in full swing. Upon hearing the news of his brother’s return, he was in no mood to rejoice. The older, faithful son complained to his father, not of his brother, but of “your son.” He had distanced himself from the vagabond irresponsible sibling who skipped out. He complained to his father that he worked faithfully without recognition or reward, much less a party of this magnitude. “What gives?” he wanted to know. How fair is this? The son forgot his brother; the father never did and never would. Nor was his love any less for the faithful son. The father wanted his elder son, whom he loved and trusted and depended on, to rejoice because the family was whole again.
The Church this Sunday is the family celebrating. It rejoices in its dependable faithful members; it rejoices in the return of those who have strayed. The Church is not a reward for the virtuous; it is a shelter and home for the sinful. And that includes all of us. In this kind of generous catholicity, we are one with one another and with Christ. This is our role as ambassadors of reconciliation.
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