Lent 4 C

The first reading is Israel’s oft told story of a transition moment in their history. They were brought out of slavery in Egypt, and that is referred to by the word ‘reproach, and the name Gilgal which can mean ‘rolled away;’ they have been troubled for a generation wandering in the desert, where they displeased God but were also protected by Him; and now they have just set foot in the land they believed God had long promised would be theirs ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Moses, who led them for so much of this physical and spiritual journey, had disappeared from the scene once they were in sight of the end. Joshua has taken over as leader, and with the help of God, and stepping stones, they cross the river Jordan, perhaps swollen from the melted northern mountain snows, reflecting the crossing of the ‘sea’ to escape the Egyptians forty years previously. So with great joy they celebrate with the fruits of their new land, a new Passover into a new future. Their bread was fresh from the wheat and hence had no time to leaven, so thereafter it became a symbol of entering the promised land, replacing the manna (meaning ‘what is it?’) that they took as a short-term miraculous food from God in the desert.

The well-chosen second reading is also about transition, this time for the Christians. It is with remarkable depth that Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, describes the radically new situation that we are now in, writing “who is in Christ is a new creation!” And he goes on to say that it is our job to bring this new being into the world – that’s the whole world, not just our own folk or just the Jews. God joined our sinful humanity in Christ, so that all humans would be in a good relationship with God, described as God’s righteousness. The old has passed away and the new reality created.

The Gospel gives us a parable unique to Luke which he says Jesus told to the scribes and Pharisees, because they were quite disturbed by His association and even goodwill towards tax collectors and sinners. We call it the parable of the prodigal son. It is about the relationship of a father with one of his sons when he returned repentant after going off and wasting his inheritance and his life and coming on extremely bad times; he runs to greet and forgive him even before he has said he is sorry. God is like that father towards people who go astray and only seem to regret their folly when things go all haywire. There is also another son who has been faithful and at home all the time, and who feels quite unfairly treated by the lavish reception given to the prodigal, but that’s what we can be like as well. It is a powerful, though simple illustration of what Jesus wants to show His Father and ours is like.

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