4th Sunday of Lent – Cycle C
Note: If there are some of The Elect at the Mass, the readings given
for Cycle A may be used. The alternate Gospel reading is about the
blind man who washes in the pool of Siloam. This reminds The Elect of
the refreshing waters of baptism which they will soon receive at the
Easter Vigil Mass.
Note: Where a Scripture text is underlined in the body of this
discussion, it is recommended that the reader look up and read that
1st Reading - Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
The common theme for all three readings of this Mass is “reconciliation.”
The book of Joshua is the first of the historical books, immediately
following the Torah in the Bible. Today we will add another chapter to
the story of the Israelites. Moses has died; Joshua is the new leader.
The people have crossed the Jordan River on dry land (Joshua 3:15-17),
reminiscent of their escape from Egypt through the Reed Sea. At
God’s command, Joshua has appointed twelve men, one from each
tribe of Israel to each take up a stone from the middle of the (dry for
the crossing) Jordan. These stones have been set up as a memorial of
their crossing on dry ground.
“In the future, when the children among you ask their fathers
what the stones mean, you shall inform them, ‘Israel crossed the
Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord, your God, dried up the
waters of the Jordan in front of you until you crossed over, just as
the Lord, your God, had done at the Red Sea, which He dried up in front
of us until we crossed over; in order that all the peoples of the earth
may learn that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and that you may fear
the Lord, your God, forever."
Circumcisions were then performed as none had been done on those who
had been born during the 40 year sojourn in the desert (Joshua 5:4-5).
This now brings us to today’s reading and the celebration of the
Passover in the Promised Land.
9a [T]he LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
The Hebrew translated as “removed” is literally
“rolled” (galloti). What the reproach is, is uncertain.
Some have interpreted it is the state of non-circumcision while others
interpret it as slavery, which has now come to an end with the entry
into the promised land.
10 While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho,
Two meanings have been suggested for Gilgal:
1) “to roll” because of its similarity to the Hebrew verb (gll)
2) “circle” (of stones) for the 12 stones
which were placed in a circle as a memorial In any case, the
exact location is uncertain but it is close to Jericho, it was a holy
place in the days of Samuel, and the place where Saul was installed as
king (1 Samuel 11:14-15).
they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month.
This corresponds with the date of the original Passover (see Numbers 33:3).
11 On the day after the Passover they ate of the
produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain.
The feast of unleavened bread. Only unleavened bread was to be eaten
for a week beginning with the day of Passover (Exodus 12:14-20).
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
The 40th year since the exodus
ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
2nd Reading - 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
In our first reading we heard about how the Israelites, once they had
reached the promised land, reconciled themselves with God by
circumcising and celebrating the Passover and Feast of Unleavened
Bread. In today’s epistle reading St. Paul spells out the process
whereby God’s saving love touches human lives.
17 So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
Anyone who belongs to the believing community, which is Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15; 8:12;
the old things have passed away;
The Old Covenant
behold, new things have come.
The redemptive activity of Jesus radically changes those who allow
themselves to be affected by it (see Romans 6:4; 8:9-10; Galatians
6:15). The old things, the Old Covenant, are no more (2 Corinthians
3:11). The word kaine (new) designates not just something that has
recently appeared but rather a new manner of being, differing
essentially from what was habitual before. The crucifixion and
resurrection of Jesus is for Paul the dividing line between two periods
of history of the world. Christ instituted the “world to
come” when He instituted the New Covenant.
18 And all this is from God,
God alone is the author of the new covenant.
who has reconciled us to himself through Christ
See Romans 5:10-12.
and given us the ministry of reconciliation,
This is the apostolate given to Paul by God through Jesus (Acts
26:15-18). This is also the commission given to all the apostles (John
20:21-23). In fact, when Jesus and the apostles first went out
baptizing (John 3:23), they were administering the baptism of
repentance the same as John the Baptist, not a sacramental baptism
which wasn’t commissioned by Jesus until after the resurrection
19 namely, God was reconciling the world to himself
not counting their trespasses against them
As He had done at the sin of Adam and at the golden calf
“God was in Christ, that is to say, the Father was in the Son,
reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them.
Creation sinned against God and did not repent, so God, who did not
want His work to perish, sent His Son in order to preach through Him
the forgiveness of sins and thus reconcile them to Himself.” [The
Ambrosiaster (between A.D. 366-384), Commentaries on Thirteen Pauline
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
They are to preach the gospel, to baptize, and even to forgive sins as His emissary (John 20:19-23).
20 So we are ambassadors for Christ,
Not merely representatives but prolonging the mission of Christ by
being His instrument (“he who hears you hears Me”).
as if God were appealing through us.
This underlines God’s respect for the freedom of His creatures
– it must be our decision, not God’s. Reconciliation can be
lost; those who have accepted the Gospel must always allow it to
exercise its effect upon them.
We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin
Jesus became the ultimate sin sacrifice so that heaven could be opened and our sins could be forgiven and forgotten.
who did not know sin,
Jesus is God and therefore sinless (Romans 7:1).
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
We can have our sins forgiven and forgotten and become sinless like God Himself.
Gospel - Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Our gospel reading today is the parable of the prodigal son; perhaps it
should be renamed the parable of the loving father because he is really
the star of the story. This parable is found only in Luke’s
gospel. The parable plays upon the hearer’s knowledge of two
brothers stories, in which the younger triumphs over the elder: 1) Esau
and Jacob (Genesis 25:27-34; 27:1-36) and Joseph and his brothers
(Genesis 37:1-4). Jesus doubly reverses expectations: the prodigal son
is a parody of the successful younger brother; the elder son is not
vanquished, but invited to the feast.
15:1 [T]ax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to him, 2 but the
Pharisees and scribes began to complain,
The scribes and Pharisees were scandalized by the fact that Jesus associated with people of this ilk (see Luke 5:30; 7:34).
saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
To the Pharisees, a man was known by the company he keeps. Jesus, of
course, came to lead them to salvation by setting the example for them
3 So to them he addressed this parable: 11[ ] “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.’
The estate was not necessarily divided only upon the death of the
father. The inheritance was usually given when the son married; when he
needed it the most. The eldest got two parts and each other son got one
part. Sirach argued against this practice (Sirach 33:19-23).
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.
Just as we can lose our inheritance (heaven) through sinful acts, the
son squanders his through unrestrained sensuality and spendthrift
extravagance. Adam and Eve lost the garden of Eden through sin.
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
To do things which only Gentiles did. Pigs were unclean animals and
anyone who touched them became unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8). The sinner
has further isolated himself from God.
16 And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
The fruit of the carob tree
but nobody gave him any.
He was totally isolated. He must have stolen his food. This is the
anxiety and emptiness a person feels when he is far from God. This is
what enslavement to sin involves (Romans 6:6; Galatians 5:1) – by
sinning one loses the freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21;
Galatians 5:13) and hands oneself over to the power of Satan.
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
His memory of home and his conviction that his father will not turn him
away cause the son to reflect and decide to set out on the right road.
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;
Recognizes his sinfulness with full contrition
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.’”
I will do penance the rest of my live (sacrifice/self giving).
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.
Very undignified behavior for an elderly Oriental gentleman. The father
must have been constantly checking the road for some sign of his son
and immediately recognized him even at a great distance. God also never
gives up on his children and eagerly welcomes them back to His family
through the sacrament of penance/reconciliation/confession. When we
sincerely confess our sins we again put on Christ and become His
brothers; members of God’s family (Romans 8:14-17). God does not
greet us with reproaches, but with immense compassion.
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.
Does not welcome him back as a servant but as a son, a free person (Genesis 41:42)
23 Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
The animal reserved for very special occasions.
Then let us celebrate with a feast, 24 because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
See Ephesians 2:1-7.
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
He thinks his father loves the younger son excessively. His jealousy
prevents him from understanding how his father can do so much to
celebrate the return of the sinful child; this cuts him off from the
joy the whole family feels. It’s true that he was a sinner but it
is not up to the older brother to judge him; that prerogative belongs
to the father. God’s mercy is so great that man cannot grasp it.
We should also consider that if God has compassion toward sinners, He
must have much, much more toward those who strive to be faithful to
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,
Even after the angry outburst from the elder brother, the father still addresses him affectionately.
you are here with me always; everything I have is yours.
Your inheritance is secure. Just because your brother has returned, your share is not reduced.
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
Mercy, as Christ has presented it in this parable, has as its basis the
interior form of love which the New Testament calls agape. This love is
able to reach down to every prodigal son, to every human misery, and
above all to every form of moral misery; to sin. When this happens, the
person who is the object of mercy does not feel humiliated, but rather
found again and “restored to value.” The father first and
foremost expresses to him his joy, that he has been “found
again” and that he has “returned to life.” This joy
indicates a good that has remained intact: even if he is a prodigal,
the son does not cease to be truly his father’s son; it also
indicates a good that has been found again, which in the case of the
prodigal son was his return to the truth about himself.
God is waiting by the side of the road to welcome us back into His
family and to celebrate our rebirth. As we honestly examine our lives,
we realize that the covenant instituted by Jesus is one of grace and
mercy; of repentance and reconciliation. We know this from His gift of
the Holy Spirit to Peter and the apostles who left Jesus at the Garden
of Gethsemane but turned back in penitence after the crucifixion. Peter
too, was the prodigal son on Good Friday who was welcomed home on
Easter morning and fed bread and fish at the lake side in celebration.
To better understand the New Covenant, we need to be in touch not only
with the faith demands expressed in the earlier weeks of Lent but also
with the repentance and forgiveness expressed in today’s readings.
St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Picayune, MS http://www.scborromeo.org