|Reading 1||Response||Reading 2||Gospel|
|Jos 5:9a, 10-12||Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7|| 2 Cor 5:17-21
RCL: 2 Cor 5:16-21
|Lk 15:1-3, 11-32|
|Liturgical note: Lætare Sunday|
|The fourth Sunday of Lent is called Lætare Sunday. The Latin verb lætare (lay-TAH-ray), which means “rejoice!” or “be joyful!”, comes from the entrance antiphon for the day:
Lætare Ierusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam.
The liturgical color for Lent is purple, a color that reminds us of our need for metanoia–conversion and change. Lætare Sunday’s liturgical color is rose, a color that represents 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.
Reconciling the lost: both sinners and righteous
During Lent the believing community follows Jesus as he is tested, transfigured, tells parables, forgives, and arrives in Jerusalem. This week’s readings ask us: who is in greatest need of being found and being reconciled?
The first reading, from the book of Joshua, describes the Israelites settling in the promised land and the manna’s end. While the Israelites journeyed in the wilderness, God fed them with manna. When they reached the promised land, they no longer needed manna. As a pilgrim people journeying to the kingdom, God feeds the ekklesia (believing community) with the Eucharist. When we reach God’s kingdom and the messianic feast, we will no longer need the Eucharist. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to match the feasting in the gospel. Like the Eucharist, the gospel’s feast both celebrates the lost one’s return and invites the still-lost to enter.
In the second reading from the second letter to the Corinth ekklesia, Paul invites the Corinthians to participate in Paul’s own ministry of reconciliation. God began this reconciliation ministry in Christ, who reconciled us to God. Christ continues this ministry through his disciples as “ambassadors of reconciliation.” Paul urges all to “be reconciled to God.” The Lectionary editors chose this reading because it echoes the gospel’s theme of reconciliation.
Luke’s gospel is the parable of the lost son. This parable is the final of three parables about becoming lost and being found. While teaching to a crowd of listening “tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus directs these parables, especially the lost son parable, to the grumbling Pharisees and scribes.
- The religious and social contexts. Pharisees (the name means “pious ones” or “separated ones”) believed that to achieve the holiness God desires, they must remain ritually pure, which includes avoiding sinners. They can’t understand why Jesus eats with unclean tax collectors and sinners. Jesus answers with parables that challenge the Pharisees’ ideas of who is a sinner and what God desires.
- Lost and wanting to be found. The younger son estranges himself from his generous father by demanding his share of his father’s livelihood during his father’s lifetime. Through overspending and bad money management, he loses what he needs to live. After hitting bottom (working as a gentile’s pig-feeder), he realizes he needs his father after all. His generous father forgives him, fully reinstates him in the family (as a son, not a hired worker), and celebrates his return with a reconciliation feast for the entire village.
- Lost and invited to be found. The older son estranges himself from his father as well. He insults his father, saying he is his father’s victim: he slaves for years and never disobeys a command, but his father is too cheap to reward him with a feast with his friends. The older son, who has done everything right, is deeply bitter of his brother’s treatment, and would rather celebrate with friends, not family. The generous father leaves the younger son’s feast to comfort his older son, to assure him about his inheritance, and to invite him to join the reconciliation feast-in-progress.
The Lenten Lectionary readings call us to walk with Jesus as he prepares for his transformative death. Today’s readings are about estrangement, forgiveness, reconciliation, and feasts. Jesus’ ministry inaugurates God’s kingdom. His sharing in meals is a sign of the messianic feast. All are invited. Sinners have already been welcomed in. Others stand outside, invited but undecided, because they don’t like the guest list. Jesus leaves the parable unresolved: will the older son join the feast? Will we?