6 March 2016: Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lætare Sunday)

Lætare Sunday
The name Lætare Sunday comes from the Entrance antiphon for the day:

Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
Rejoice, Jerusalem, and come together all who love her.

Lætare is the Latin work meaning rejoice or joy. This Sunday marks Lent’s approximate mid-point, a day to rejoice because Easter is now within sight. Traditionally this day was a day of relaxation from normal Lenten practices.

 

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
 Jos 5:9a, 10-12  Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7  2 Cor 5:17-21  Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Lent: lost and forgiven

During Lent RCIA candidates (those who are already baptized) experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation to prepare themselves for Confirmation and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. This week the Lectionary readings invite RCIA participants and all the believing community to consider how God thinks about forgiveness.

While the first reading (the end of manna) and the second reading (our ministry of reconciliation) are important, this reflection focuses on the gospel–the parable of the lost son.

Jesus’ ministry–bringing the good news–is often described as “comforting the afflicted.” But part of Jesus’ teaching is about “afflicting the comfortable.” Jesus frequently delivers his unsettling messages as parables. A parable is an opened-ended story or metaphor that overturns the hearer’s expectations and make him or her think.

Today’s parable, “the prodigal son” or, more accurately, “the lost son,” is about forgiveness. The Pharisees and scribes are Jesus’ audience (but we can learn something, too). Here’s what makes the parable:

  • The set-up: “A man has two sons.” Hebrew scripture is full of men who have two sons: Adam has Cain and Able; Abraham has Ishmael and Isaac; Isaac has Esau and Jacob, and so on. Paired sons are a type: the younger son is favored by God, is more successful, and outwits his older brother. Jesus starts his story this way so hearers would recognize the types, but Jesus then overturns the types.
  • The younger son: Unlike the Hebrew scripture type, he’s an irresponsible bad boy who demands his portion of his father’s livelihood and wastes it on wine, women, and song. When things get tough, he goes home with a well-rehearsed speech.
  • The older son: Unlike the Hebrew scripture type, he’s an always-responsible oldest child. When he hears his goof-off brother is back and being feasted, he’s mad. Where’s the fairness in that? He refuses to enter the house.
  • The man: He’s a parent who loves both his children unconditionally. He can and does forgive them anything.
  • The question: Who is lost?: The younger son was lost in another country but has returned alive. His father doesn’t care why his son has returned; he’s glad to have him home. Now the older son is lost to him, because he thinks his father has treated him unfairly. The father and his now-lost older son are left standing outside, while the welcome-home party goes on in the house.

Forgiveness happens only when we give up expectations of or conditions for repayment. Reconciliation is about love, not equality or perceived fairness. The younger son experiences his father’s forgiveness before he completes his rehearsed speech. The older son (Pharisees and scribes take note!) experiences his father’s forgiveness even though he doesn’t understand that he needs it.

Jesus uses this parable to tell the Pharisees, scribes, and us how God thinks: you’re forgiven. RCIA candidates who will experience Reconciliation: you’re forgiven. Everyone: you’re forgiven. If you want to argue that God is too generous in forgiving everyone, and that you don’t think that’s right, and you personally can’t do that, that is your choice. You can stand outside while the party goes on in the house. You’re still forgiven.

—Terence Sherlock

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