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Fourth Sunday Of Lent, Year C

By Father Donald Dilger
Father Donald Dilger

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 

The first reading is from the Book of Joshua. Moses died before leading the people into the Land of Promise. Joshua was his successor. His actions in this book are often modelled on those of Moses in the Exodus. Moses sent spies to scout out the land in general. Joshua sent spies to scout out Jericho and surroundings. Moses led the people across the Sea of Reeds on dry ground. Joshua led the people across the Jordan on dry ground. Moses was told to remove his shoes in the burning bush scene because he was standing on holy ground. Joshua was told to remove his shoes in a vision because he was standing on holy ground. There are more examples, but what is their purpose? To demonstrate the authority of Joshua as leader and prophet like Moses. Joshua is the first (not the last) to fulfill the role outlined by Moses for his successor in Deut. 18:15-18, “The Lord God will raise up a prophet like me from among you. To him you shall listen.” Luke, in Acts 3:22, identifies Jesus as this “prophet like Moses.” Three gospels pick up this idea, when the voice from the sky speaks to the disciples at the transfiguration of Jesus, “Listen to him.” It is interesting to recall that Joshua and Jesus are basically the same name.

In the context of today’s first reading, the Israelites under Joshua’s leadership had crossed the Jordan. They camped east of Jericho at Gilgal. The authors of the book note how terror-stricken tribal rulers were west of the Jordan because of the presence of the Israelites. These rulers were aware that the Lord was with the Israelites, since he dried up the waters of the Jordan so they could cross on dry ground. The news got around. Israel could not be stopped. The first Passover had been celebrated in Egypt 40 years earlier.  Now that they had entered the Land of Promise, it was time to celebrate Passover again. But there was a problem. According to Exodus 12:48, uncircumcised males could not participate in the Passover. Thousands of them were born during the Exodus and lacked this surgery. So Joshua staged a grand circumcision event. The Lord God was pleased, as he says to Joshua, “Today I have rolled back the reproach of Egypt.” After a wait of some days for healing, the Israelites celebrated Passover.

The Responsorial Psalm, 34, has no special connection with the first reading. It’s just a song praising the goodness of the Lord especially to the poor. The People’s Response is well known through its frequent use in our liturgies, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” taken from verse 8 of this Psalm. The second reading is from 2 Corinthians. This letter or combination of several Pauline letters is often a defense of Paul’s apostolate against those who accused him of not being a real apostle, like the Twelve. Before his conversion Paul had misjudged Christ. After his conversion he admits that during those times he considered only Christ’s humanity. Now he knows that that there is something entirely new, that the old things have passed away, and new things have arrived.  He now believes that the role of Christ was to reconcile the world to God. Then he gets personal. This role did not stop with Christ but is continued through Paul himself in a ministry of reconciliation as God’s ambassador. A profoundly involved way of proclaiming the legitimacy of Paul’s apostolate!

The gospel is Luke’s Lost and Found theology. The chapter gives three examples: the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son. Today’s gospel is concerned with the lost and found son. The headline however relates to all lost and found humanity. “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Jesus.” His critics observe, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with sinners.” Luke gives an example of a sinner, a lost son, who brought a mess upon himself because he wanted freedom. His freedom turned into the slavery of hunger. A brief summary — a man had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance. The father, (for the sake of the story), gives it to him. The younger son collects his belongings, leaves home, squanders his inheritance in loose living. He accepts a job — feeding swine for a farmer. That may seem OK to us, but this is a Jewish boy feeding unclean animals whose meat was forbidden to Jews. The point is this, that he had fallen as low as one could go, something like Jonah who became fish vomit. Still having a vague idea of morality, he would not even eat hog food because no one gave it to him. “Thou shalt not steal.” When reaching bottom, there is only one possible direction   — up. He knows he has no right to be restored to his family, but what about working for his dad? Dad’s workers had plenty to eat. He devises an Act of Contrition and sets out for home. His father had not given up. From a distance he saw his son approaching. He ran to him, embraced him, clothed him, put a ring on his finger, and threw a party. A moral of the story: an appeal to sinners to return to their Father in repentance. He is waiting to receive them.

In the meantime, the older brother, always loyal to his father and faithful to his duties, is working on the farm. He hears the noise of the party and investigates, because “Inquiring minds want to know!” He was so angry that he would not even enter the house of his father and greet his lost brother. He confronts his father, reminding him of the ongoing loyalty to him all these years, while the younger son “swallowed up your property with prostitutes.” The reply of the father reveals the moral of the story. Everything the father owned was already co-owned by the older son. Even though the younger son deserved his suffering, “Let’s put that behind us, because he really is my son, and really is your brother. He was dead and has come back to life, lost and was found.” This parable may be Luke’s appeal to convince earlier Christians of Jewish origin to welcome Gentiles, (all considered sinners), into the Christian family. Readers, hearers, homilists take note. Parables are open to many interpretations.