Engaging the Word: Readings for 3/6/16 (The Fourth Sunday in Lent)

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By Barbara Klugh

 Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32. . Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, the Israelites celebrate their first Passover in the Promised Land, Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors for Christ, and Jesus tells the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Gathering Manna Bible illustration. Public domain via The Work of God’s Children image gallery.

Gathering Manna Bible illustration. Public domain via The Work of God’s Children image gallery.

Joshua 5:9-12: The Book of Joshua describes the entering, conquest, and the settlement of Canaan, the Promised Land. Joshua was Moses’ assistant, and before Moses died he conferred his authority to Joshua. Earlier, Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground into the Promised Land and set up twelve stones at Gilgal as a memorial. The males born during the wilderness wandering were circumcised.

In this week’ reading, God said, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” This may refer to the humiliation the Israelites experienced in Egypt, or to the circumcision, a sign of God’s covenant, which hadn’t been practiced in forty years. Then the former slaves celebrated their first Passover in the Promised Land.

On the day after the Passover, the Israelites had their first taste of the produce of the land—unleavened cakes and parched grain—and the manna that had sustained them for forty years came to an end. Apparently crops had already been planted and cultivated by the previous inhabitants, so they “ate the crops of Canaan that year.”

Psalm 32: This week’s psalm is one of the seven penitential psalms. Confession of sin and God’s forgiveness bring happiness and a restored relationship with God; holding back brings an intolerable burden of guilt and misery.

St Paul statue in front of St. Peter's Basilica. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

St Paul statue in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21: In this week’s reading, I think Paul is saying that he no longer judges people from a human point of view, as he did before his conversion. But since becoming a new person in Christ, he is convinced that God’ new creation is underway. In Christ, God is reconciling the world to himself, meaning he is overcoming the rebellion of his creatures and is not counting their sins against them.

Paul’s statement that God made Christ to be “sin” in order for us to become righteous may be somewhat analogous to the Old Testament sacrifice called the “sin offering.” Although sinless, it was through Christ’s sin offering that he made it possible for sinners like you and me to enter into right relationship with God. When we are adopted as children of God, we are a new people and “everything has become new!” And as a new people, God has entrusted us with the “ministry of reconciliation.” We are called to be “Ambassadors for Christ” and lead others to the kingdom.

The return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1642). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt (1642). Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32: This week’s reading opens with criticism by the Pharisees that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus handles their criticism by telling them several parables. This week we’ll hear the story usually known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

The younger son asks for his inheritance and the father agrees. The younger son, after wasting his fortune in dissolute living, goes hungry during a famine, and becomes so destitute he ends up feeding the pigs—unclean animals in Jewish culture—and  and even longing for their food. But then “he came to himself,” and returns home with the intention of repenting and begging his father to be made one of his hired servants. However, the father saw him on the road and filled with compassion, “he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” The son began to apologize but the father told his slaves to bring the best robe, sandals, and a ring. Then he said, “And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”

The older son is resentful and refuses to participate in the celebration, stating that in all the time he has worked for the father, he never disobeyed him; yet, he did not even receive a goat to celebrate with his friends. Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost, and has been found.’”

Most commentators have a similar allegorical interpretation like that of Chris Haslam. Each character stands for someone other than himself: the younger son for the “tax collectors and sinners,” the elder son for the religious authorities, and the father for God. Jesus’ point is that all sinners may repent and come home to God, that God seeks people out to restore them, and instead of begrudging another’s repentance, the godly should be happy that God’s love extends to the undeserving. Even us.

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