Fourth Sunday of Lent
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
This weekend, the Church observes Laetare Sunday, the name being derived from the first word, in Latin, of the Entrance Antiphon. The word is “laetare,” or “rejoice.” The end of Lent is approaching, but much more importantly, the Church rejoices that Lent has assisted us in finding God and in anticipation of remembering what the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus brought to us.
Priests may wear rose vestments, not pink. Pink is a blend of red and white. Rose mixes red with gold. Human life is red, fiery and even bloodthirsty. White is lifeless and bland.
Gold is the color of treasure, glory and of Jesus, the light of the world.
When the first rays of the sun sweep across the horizon, breaking the cold and darkness of night, they are golden, not white. Piercing the darkness, sunbeams create a sky not white but splendidly rose in color.
The Book of Joshua, the first reading, looks far back into the history of God’s people, who, in this story, are almost finished with their long and arduous trip across the Sinai Peninsula.
God came with the gift of manna from the sky to sustain the people. They did not starve. As they neared the Promised Land, the supply of manna stopped. Why? God’s Promised Land provided them with a steady, reliable source of food.
St. Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes the second reading. Urgently, Paul appealed to the Corinthian Christians to be reconciled with God in Christ. He wrote while watching the tendencies of the Corinthians to yield to old pagan ways unfolded.
His urgency also underscored his insistence that nothing else matters but life with God. Following Jesus makes a person a “new creation.” The trials of earth, including death, are only momentary concerns.
For its final reading, the Church presents, from Luke’s Gospel, the beautiful and reassuring parable of the prodigal son.
Much of the parable is self-evident, even to us in the 21st century. Quite clear is the uncompromised, constant love of the father, who symbolizes God.
Some powerful messages may be lost unless we consider the context. For example, the prodigal son was not the oldest. As such, he was not his father’s heir. In the prevailing tradition, the father owed him little if anything.
Then, the prodigal son had deserted his father. Jews prized loyalty to parents, expressed in loving care and attention, as they still do.
Next, the prodigal son engaged prostitutes, abhorrent for Jews since such unions scorned the sanctity of marriage and the family, an ideal so treasured by Jews then and now. Biologically, that meant that the pure stock of God’s people might be defiled by the children born to pagan women in vice.
Finally, the prodigal son stooped so low that he waited on pigs, the lowest of animals in pious Jewish eyes. He did not even serve humans.
Nevertheless, the father forgave all and gave a wonderful inheritance to this wayward son.
The Church is excited and joyful. Salvation is our inheritance. Lovingly, the Church calls us to salvation, to be with God in and through Jesus.
To be with God, to enter the Promised Land with its security and unending plenty, we all must be new creations in Christ, brightened and led by Christ through this dark world.
Even to think of abandoning selfishness or sin or accepting God may at times be a tall order. We may be angry. We may doubt. We may be ashamed. Instincts are powerful, habits hard to break.
We are not alone or helpless. God loves us and awaits us with love, mercy, forgiveness and strength.
Rejoice! Laetare! The brilliant, warming light of Christ gleams before our eyes.
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