Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C

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

After Moses led the Israelites out of a slave-like situation in Egypt, they became nomadic herders and sometimes warlike bands moving northward from the Sinai Wilderness toward the land promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses’ chief assistant was Joshua. Moses died shortly before entry into the Land of Promise. Joshua succeeded him as leader. The author(s) of the Book of Joshua modeled Joshua’s leadership achievements on those credited to Moses in the Book of Exodus. Examples: Moses sent scouts to spy out the Land of Promise; Joshua sent scouts to spy out Jericho. Moses led the people through the Sea of Reeds on dry ground; Joshua led the people through the Jordan on dry ground. Moses was told to remove his sandals at the burning bush because he was standing on holy ground; the same is told to Joshua. By these incidents and others, the authors seek to legitimize the authority of Joshua as successor to Moses. Joshua is the first to fulfil the role outlined by Moses for a successor in Deut. 18:15-18. A new Joshua, (Yehoshua, Yeshua or Jesus) will be the last to fulfil that role. See Acts 3:22. Of both Joshua, Deut. 18:15, and Jesus, Mark 9:7; Mt 17:5; Lk 9:35, the Scriptures said, “Listen to him.”

The context of today’s first reading is the first encampment of the Israelites after crossing the Jordan. There was a problem. It must have been Springtime, and it was time to celebrate Passover. The last time Passover was celebrated was the first Passover immediately before escape from Egypt 40 years earlier. Among requirements for eating the Passover meal the law states that no uncircumcised male may eat of it. See Exodus 12:43-44, 48-49. The authors explain that all the circumcised males who left Egypt were now dead, and no men had undergone this surgery in the past 40 years. To celebrate Passover, this had to be done. Joshua commands, “Make knives of flint and circumcise the Israelite men.” This was accomplished, the authors tell us, “at the Hill of Foreskins.” That is why our reading begins, “The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled back the reproach of Egypt from you.’” Now, all could celebrate Passover. The manna that had been part of their diet all these years ceased to fall because they could now harvest grain and bake bread.

Psalm 34 may not seem an obvious choice to respond to the first reading, but one might make a connection to the reading in the response of the people, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord,” since the Israelites had just tasted the Passover Meal. The Psalm verses praise the Lord especially because of his concern for the poor. In the context of the second reading, Paul pointed out that, in the past, before his conversion, he had misjudged Christ because he regarded him as merely human. Now he knows something entirely new. Everyone in Christ is a new creation. Since creation is an act of God, this can only be done by God. But God uses human agents like Paul and other ministers of the word to bring about reconciliation with God, “God appealing to the world through us as his ambassadors.” God made his sinless Son part of sinful humanity, “made him to be sin who did not know sin,” to bring about a correct relationship (righteousness) with God.

Luke’s chapter 15 is his Lost and Found Department. He gives three examples: a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son. Though the lost sheep and the lost coin cannot be said to have sinned, the lost son definitely sinned. Our concern is with the lost son, also called the prodigal son (freespending, maxing out his credit cards). The headline to the chapter relates all three examples to lost humanity. Luke begins, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Jesus.” His critics observe, “This man eats with sinners.” Don’t we all, even when we eat alone?

The lost son wanted his freedom. His ill-sought freedom turned him into a slave of hunger. A brief summary: a man had two sons. The younger asked for his inheritance. The father, for the sake of the story, gives it to him. The younger son packs his stuff, leaves home and squanders his inheritance in loose living. Desperate for food, he takes a job with a hog operation — feeding hogs, a swineherd. That seems o.k.; but this is a Jewish boy taking care of animals considered unclean, not because they love to be in mud, but because their meat was forbidden to Jews due to a law in the Torah. “The swine is unclean to you because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed, but does not chew the cud.” The poor boy still has a vague concept of the Torah law, “Thou shalt not steal,” so he could not even eat the carob pods with which he fed the hogs because his boss did not offer him any. He had reached bottom like Jonah in the fish at the bottom of the sea. The only alternative was up. He thinks he has no right to be restored to his family, but perhaps he could get a job working for his dad. His dad’s farm laborers had plenty to eat. He puts together an Act of Contrition and sets out for home. His father had not given up hope for his son. From a distance, he saw him approach. He ran out to him, embraced him, clothed him and threw a party. The moral of the story: an appeal to sinners to return to their Father’s house. He is waiting for them.

The older brother is just returning from work in the field. He hears the noise of the party. He checks it out because “inquiring minds want to know.” Discovering that his brother had returned, he was angry. He refused to come into the house. As his father had run out to meet the wayward son, he does the same with his older son, who in his own way is a wayward son. He reminds his father that while he had served his father loyally, the younger son “swallowed up your property with prostitutes. You have never even given me a goat to roast for a party with my friends, but for this son of yours you butchered the fatted calf.” The father pleads, “Let’s put that behind us. He really is my son and really is your brother. He was dead and has come back to life, was lost and has been found.” There can be many applications of this story. It is often used in Rites of Reconciliation. It can also serve as an illustration of a very consoling statement in the Canticle of King Hezekiah, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.” See Isaiah 38:17 and 1:18.