Opening reflection (taken from Magnificat magazine, www.magnificat.com): St. Paul makes plain today's point: “God has reconciled us to Himself through Christ … We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God … Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” What is it that finally moves the prodigal son to return home? His hunger. In the experience of being without, he becomes aware of the “something more” that can save him: his father's house. Certain that his father will feed him just as he feeds any of his household servants, the son sets out to be saved. He goes hoping for scraps of manna, yet he is received like the Israelites into the Promised Land where he is set before a feast. The “hunger” of what remains unreconciled in us is what leads us back to the Father. Dressed in the effects of the Father's own authority, we “become the righteousness of God.”
(This weekend's Scripture readings are available in the New American Bible translation at the Vatican’s English website at http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0839/_INDEX.HTM.)
First Reading: Joshua 5:9a, 10-12 (Revised Standard Version)
A reading from the book of Joshua.
The LORD said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."
While the people of Israel were encamped in Gilgal they kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the month at evening in the plains of Jericho. And on the morrow after the Passover, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. And the manna ceased on the morrow, when they ate of the produce of the land; and the people of Israel had manna no more, but ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: This episode, which takes place just before Joshua and the Israelites began to walk and shout and blast their shofars (ram's-horn trumpets) around the walls of Jericho, nonetheless might seem odd within the context of Lent. Even the three-year reading cycle's typical linkage between the first reading and the Gospel reading – in this case, the parable of the Prodigal Son – doesn't seem at first to explain why it's so important on this Sunday to note when Israel's daily manna supply, so vital during the 40 years of desert wandering, ceased to fall.
The explanation begins with God's statement to Joshua. The “reproach of Egypt” was the stigma of slavery that Israel had borne through the 400 years since Jacob had lived in Canaan. Now his descendants had crossed the Jordan (on dry land, after a miracle similar to the Red Sea crossing) and entered the Promised Land. They still had to conquer the land, but they were truly free – a point re-emphasized by their keeping of the Passover with its remembrance of the awesome night when God struck down Egypt's firstborn but preserved Israel through the blood of their sacrificed lambs, painted on their doorposts to ward off the angel of death.
Finally, Israel could begin to sample the “milk and honey” – that is, the plenitude of food – that God promised to Moses from the burning bush on Sinai. Having done so, the manna ceased. When you read about the Prodigal Son below, remember Israel's passage from slavery to freedom and how the younger son went through a similar transformation. As God removed Israel's “reproach of Egypt” here, so the father removes the reproach of his son's sins from him. As Israel began to feast in its Promised Land, so did the son and the father feast together in celebration. And so do we feast when we, too, are delivered from sin and welcomed into God's Kingdom – our Promised Land.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:17-21
A reading from the second letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters: If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation: It's easy to recognize the Lenten application of this passage. After pondering the first reading, it also should be easy to see how Paul's plea ultimately is tied to the slavery of sin. But pause for a moment and mull over these words: “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.” They offer a gentle rejoinder to those Christians and non-Christians who see God – even after our redemption on the Cross – as an angry Judge who is merely placated by Christ's sacrifice.
There indeed have been times, under both the Old Covenant and the New, when God chose to give His people over to their enemies because they refused to be true to Him. As we will see in a moment in the Gospel, that decision does not equate to His ceasing to love us; it simply respects the free will He gave us. But God loves us so much that He cannot simply leave us alone; that's why He became one of us. He took the initiative to bring us back to Himself, just as it was His initiative to create us to begin with.
Paul pleads with us to respond because not only because of the profound gift God gave us in Christ, but because God wants us all to be with Him when that final day comes and all those who willingly remain apart from Him will see their choice made permanent forever. Are you holding yourself apart from God this Lenten season? Have you considered coming back to Him? Paul urges us: By all means, do!
Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke. Glory to You, O Lord.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable:
"There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' And he arose and came to his father.
“But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry.
“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'"
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.
Meditation: This parable is beloved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike for its portrayal of our utter poverty when we mire ourselves in sin and our total dependence on God for mercy and salvation. But too many Christians – Catholic and non-Catholic alike – fail to fully grasp the depth of the father's feelings for his wayward son. To understand the God of Israel and of the Church, one must see Him as the Father of the Prodigal Sons and Daughters of humanity – not as the angry Judge.
Think about it. The younger son comes to the father and essentially says, “I wish you were already dead.” We come to God and say, “We don't need You; let us do what we want and give us the means to do it.” If the father were an angry judge, would he not have coldly dismissed his son with words of wrath and exclusion? Would not God do the same with us? Both the father of the parable and the God of the universe would have had the right to dismiss us. But we hear no words of dismissal as Jesus tells the story. The father gave the son his inheritance in advance, just as God still gives us the earthly things we need. He stations Himself by the side of the road to heaven, just as the father keeps vigil for his lost son. Both still love. Both still watch for their children to come back.
Each of us has been the Prodigal Son or Prodigal Daughter at one time or another. We also have been the older “faithful” son, or at least we imagine ourselves as such. How quick are we to dismiss our dissipated siblings in humanity – to store in our hearts the wrath that our father, and Father, refuse to retain? But the father still loved the older son, and so our Father loves us when we are generally faithful but are tempted to hate. Let us find it in ourselves to forgive and love as our loving Father has, regardless of which son's role we choose to play.
Close with individual prayer, followed by Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be