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Fourth Sunday – Year C – Lent
Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10-12; II Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32.
1/ First Reading: NAB Joshua 5:9 Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” Therefore the place is called Gilgal to the present day. 10 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. 11 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 12 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.
2/ Second Reading: NAB 2 Corinthians 5:17 So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. 18 And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 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.
3/ Gospel: NAB Luke 15:1 The tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, 2 but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 So to them he addressed this parable. 11 Then he said, “A man had two sons, 12 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. 13 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. 14 When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. 15 So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. 16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. 17 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. 18 I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”‘ 20 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. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 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. 23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. 25 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. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. 27 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.’ 28 He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ 31 He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. 32 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.'”
Written by: Fr. Anthony Tien M. Dinh, O.P.
I. THEME: Reconcilling with God and others
If people obey God and carefully keep His Ten Commandments, they correctly live their relationships with God, others and the world around them. God shall bless them in all what they do and protect them from all dangers of their soul and body. But people didn’t keep what God teaches them; they listen to the temptations of the three enemies and turned up side down all God’s order. They give up the true love of God, their parent and family to chase after the fake and temporal love. Lent is the season when God invites people to re-examine our relationships with him and others to reconcile and to correctly live them in our life.
Today readings center on the reconciliation between people and God and with others. In the first reading, God led the Israelites into the Promise Land after their exodus from Egypt and the process of purification during their journey of forty years in deserts. Before entering the Promise Land, He ordered Joshua to circumcise all the males of Israel at Gilgal, as the covenant with them: He shall protect and bless them if they keep all His law and decrees. In the second reading, St. Paul said that people can’t reconcile with God by themselves because all of them sinned; but out of love, God gave people Christ, His Only Son to come down and to redeem people’s sins. Christ is the only reason that helps people to reconcile with God. In the Gospel, the young son gave up the true love between him and his father to chase after the world’s false and temporal love. When he must suffer, he recognized the true love and courageously stood up and returned to reconcile with his father and brother.
1/ Reading I: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
1.1/ The end of the Israelites’ forty years journey of wandering in the deserts: The Lord God said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you. Therefore the place is called Gilgal to the present day.” The exodus and the period of forty years of purification in the deserts was the time during which God intimately lived with the Israelites. He followed them in all of their journey to guide, to teach, to purify and to protect them before He led them to enter the Promise Land. Today passage marks the end of their journey, so God made a covenant with them at Gilgal through the fact that Joshua circumcised all the male of the Israelites. Through this covenant, God promised to protect them to live a happy life in the Promise Land if they carefully live according to His commandments.
1.2/ The beginning of the Israelites after their Passover: The author reported, “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.” Beginning of their prosperous life in the Promise Land, the Israelites no longer have any reason to complain and to be slavery for sins. They can eat all the good food of the Promise Land, full of milk and honey. They have freedom to live their relationship with God in love and fidelity. But as we see later, a prosperous life doesn’t guarantee a better relationship.
2/ Reading II: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
2.1/ Christ died so that people may be reconciled with God: According to Paul, all violated the law; therefore, they must endure the punishment which God prescribed, that is, to die forever. None can claim to be absolutely righteous before God and to deservedly enjoy the eternal life; but out of love for human beings, God gave them Christ, His Only Son to incarnate and to redeem all people’s sins. By his blood poured out on the cross, he reconciled people with God and with others. Before people’s reconciliation with God, they are slavery for sins and death. After people’s reconciliation with God, they become new creations: sins no longer dominate them; they become righteous before God. They shall not be dead forever, but enjoy the eternal life.
2.2/ Christ gives the mission of reconciliation to the apostles: In God’s plan of salvation, Christ not only achieved salvation for people, but also chose the apostles and gave them and their successors the mission of reconciling people with God through establishing of the sacrament of reconciliation (Cf. Mt 16:19; Lk 24:47). St. Paul was also given the mission of reconciling; so he invited all of his faithful, “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.”
3/ Gospel: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.”
Many people refused to call this parable “The Prodigal Son,” but wanted to call it as, “The Merciful Father.” I suggest to call it with both name, “The progigal son and the merciful father,” because the father can’t express his deep love without his prodigal son. There are four main stages of this parable.
3.1/ The young son turned his face from the true and everlasting to the false and temporal love: Why the young son decided to run away? The author didn’t give us the reason; the audience can only guess some reasons for his escape based on the real life. Firstly, he might think a disciplined life in family limits his freedom; therefore, he wants to escape so that he could do whatever he wishes. Secondly, he didn’t feel his father’s love for him and want to chase after more attractive invitations such as from the flesh, his friends and worldly allurements. Lastly, he might think he shall be happy with the amount of money he has from his father. One thing startles us: the father didn’t say or do anything to prevent him; he did as the young son asked for. There is some reasons for this: He might think that he can’t keep the one who wants to run away; but only the one who wants to stay. The other reason is his son might learn a lesson from a real life and be back. He shall be better after that.
3.2/ The young son recognized the signs of the true love and his happy family: People often assume that God, their parent or others have obligation to help them instead of thinking why did they do that. When they no longer have helps, they shall recognize how precious their helps are. The young son needs to pass through hunger and sufferings to recognize God’s and his father’s love. He realized that in running away from real love, his human dignity is lesser than a swine, a dirty animal according to Jewish tradition. “He longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any.”
Then he remembered of his former life and he said to himself, “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.’”
3.3/ The happy encounter between the father and the young son: Many people wondered why the father exactly knew when his son came back and recognized him when he was still father away. This question can only be answered because out of his love for him, he was looking for his son everyday. If we apply this parable to God, there is no reason why God didn’t know a person’s come back because God draws out his conversion.
Luke brought the paternal love to the summit when he described the father’s behaviors. Not like most of human fathers who shall sit and wait for the son to confess his sins and to ask for forgiveness, the father in today passage ran out to welcome his son. He didn’t wait for his son to finish his confession; He unconditionally forgave him by his words to 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.” He recovered for him all the dignity as his son and they began to celebrate.
3.4/ Jealousy is the enemy of love: The older son, though he is always at home with his father, but he didn’t understand his father’s love for him. He worked hard, not out of love for his father, but with a hope to inherit all of his father’s inheritance. He thought that he has a reason to be angry because he shall have to share his inheritance with his brother again. He valued material gain more than his father’s and brother’s love when he said to his father, “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 didn’t concern about his father’s love for his brother, though he saw how his suffering was by looking for his brother everyday. If he loves his father, he should share in his father’s love, not let his father’s love suffer one more time, when his father found out that he loves him, not out of real love, but of his inheritance. He also has no love for his brother; when he said to his father “your son,” he considered him having no blood relationship with himself.
The parable wants to highlight the father’s real love and unconditional forgiveness. Although he was rudely rebuked by the older son, he still lowered himself and advised 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.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
We can draw out many important and wise lessons from this parable:
(1) God loves all people as a father has love for all children. We don’t have to fight with others to be loved by God.
(2) When we lose some material thing, we can find a way to receive it back; but if we lose love, we shall feel sorry for the rest of our life.
(3) God doesn’t pay too much attention to our sins; but He provides many opportunities so that we might recognize His love and confess our sins.
(4) If we were unconditionally loved, reconciled and forgiven, we must also behave like that to those who sinned against us.
(5) Don’t blindly chase after false and temporal love. Let return and live a happy life with those who truly love us.
(6) Time and suffering are necessary because they help us to recognize the real amidst many false and selfish love.
(7) God’s love is true because He doesn’t concern with our sins, but always provides us with opportunities to repent and to return. Once He loves, He loves to the end.
(8) The more we live far away from God, the worse we shall be; our human dignity is debased and valued less than an animal. When we return to God, He shall recover all of our human dignity and rights as His children.