Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 27, 2022 — Year C
Readings: Jos 5:9a, 10-12; Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
by Rev. Mr. Mark De La Hunt, Permanent Deacon
The gospel begins with these words: “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus…and then the scribes and Pharisees said, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:1-2).” They meant it as an accusation, but I love, love these words about Jesus. We are living them right now, because like the tax collectors and sinners in today’s gospel, we come in our sin to draw near to Jesus at His table and to listen to Him in the Word. Drawing near to Him is our mission during Lent, and it is why we are putting extra effort into fasting, praying, and acting in charity.
Today, the readings from the Holy Bible speak to us about two ways to powerfully draw near and listen to the Risen Lord. The first way is the final covenant with humanity, established by Jesus at the Last Supper and consummated on the Cross: the Eucharist (Mt 26:28; Jn 19:30). The second way to encounter Him is the sacrament established by Jesus to keep us prepared to receive all the grace He desires to give us, most especially in the Eucharist in Holy Communion.
Holy Communion is the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9). Jesus is the groom, we are the bride, and we prepare ourselves to receive Him with a nuptial bath, Baptism (the bath a bride takes before her wedding – CCC 1617). And when we need that nuptial bath refreshed, which we often do because of sin, we seek the Sacrament of Confession which is also known by the name of Penance and of Reconciliation (CCC 1423-1424).
Before we speak of Confession, we should start at the source of our faith, the Eucharist (CCC 1324; Lumen Gentium 11). In the first reading from the book of Joshua, the Israelites eat the food of the Promised Land for the first time. Using a spiritual interpretation, the Promised Land represents Heaven, and the food of Heaven is Jesus (Kreeft 198, 200). In the Psalm we prayed, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord (Ps 34).” We see His goodness in Adoration of the Holy Sacrament (which Father gifts us with in his extended elevation of the host), and we taste His goodness in receiving the Eucharist, the Bread of Angels. The many biblical references to the Eucharist (and there are many) are not there to highlight a mere religious symbol, but to open our minds to the reality that it truly is the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus.
As for the Sacrament of Confession, for those who deny that priests have the authority to forgive sins, let them read today’s second reading, 2 Cor 5: 18 “All this is from God, who has…given us the ministry of reconciliation…So we are ambassadors for Christ.” Fr. Nixon is an “ambassador for Christ” in the confessional. Not convinced? In John 20:21-23, shortly after Jesus is risen, He appears to the apostles in the upper room and says, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you…He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Yes, we can ask Jesus for forgiveness anytime and in any place and should do so. However, “Reconciliation with the Church is inseparable from reconciliation with God (CCC 1445). Father forgives you on behalf of the Church and, if you are truly sorry and have been honest in your confession, he exercises the power Christ has given Him and removes all your sin as an ambassador of Christ. Take advantage of this gift regularly like the saints have done throughout the ages. God’s mercy knows no bounds.
Indeed, God’s boundless mercy is the crux of today’s gospel. The story Jesus tells is called the story of the what? Prodigal Son. yes. The Prodigal and his older brother, yes. Maybe an even better name for it is the one Fr. Pablo Gadenz uses, “The Compassionate Father and his Two Sons.” The Father is the star in the story. His extraordinary compassion and generosity is the surprise (Peter Kreeft 206). Let’s sift some of the gold in this rich parable of our Lord.
It is important to keep in mind the context in which Jesus told this story. His audience was the tax collectors, sinners, AND the Pharisees, and scribes. St. Augustine and many other Church fathers saw Jesus as addressing the Prodigal son story to the tax collectors and sinners, and the story of the older son, who had always served and obeyed his father, to the Pharisees and scribes (Gadenz 275). And of course we will find our sinful and self-righteous moments mirrored in one or both of them too. Peter Kreeft describes the Prodigal son as “hot and rebellious and unrighteous, and the older son as cold and proper and self-righteous (Kreeft 206).” Which one is most like you?
That is a great question to take to prayer and reflect upon, but there is another, less obvious lesson for us in these two sons. Which one would we judge most harshly, if they were members of this parish or a neighbor? The Prodigal, of course. What a deplorable person, breaking his father’s heart and squandering his inheritance on sin. The older brother, however, is obedient, and works hard for his father. Which one, however, is most in danger spiritually?
The Prodigal son became truly sorry for his sin and acknowledged the truth that he was not worthy to be a son, only a servant. The older brother though, seemingly breaking the Greatest Commandment and the one “like it”, did not acknowledge his father as father, nor his brother as brother. In his pride he refused the father’s love and was more interested in being with his friends. Ironically, he is the flip-side of his Prodigal brother, though a son, he saw himself as only a servant saying, “all these years I have served you and not once did I disobey your orders (Gadenz 278).” His self-righteous pride blinds him to his sonship and threatens his destination for eternity.
Now for the star of the story, the father. He loves both the messed-up sons so much. When that thankless, dirty, good-for-nothing prodigal son returns, the father is looking for him and probably looked for him on that road every day since he left, praying for his boy to return. The gospel says the father “was filled with compassion.” Bishop Barron points out that in the original Greek, the word for compassion was esplagnisthe, meaning his “guts are moved;” his love was visceral. Any parent who has dropped off their child at school or at college for the first time, knows this ache in their gut or chest. And when the father goes to the angry older son, who thinks he has to earn his inheritance, he is not upset. He says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours (Lk 15:31).”
Do you see how much God, our Father, loves us? Like the father in Jesus’s parable, Our Heavenly Father forgives us no matter how badly or often we have sinned, in Confession. And when we seek His forgiveness, He not only forgives, but throws a celebration meal for us: the Eucharist.
I want to close by leaving you with that joyously, happy, and beautiful image of a wedding. We are the bride; Jesus is the groom. The Mass is our wedding. Baptism and Confession are our preparation to come down the wedding aisle. You have to admit that preparing a bride for her procession down the wedding aisle is an event within the event. Thinking of her Groom and how He will be waiting for her at that altar, she diets for months, like the fasting of Lent, to get to look her best. She has her hair done professionally. Her mom, sisters, and friends team up to put on her dress, make-up, and veil. Our extra acts of charity during Lent beautify us in a similar fashion.
And the Groom? He waits at the altar, looking to spot His bride afar off like the father in the story. And when his bride appears and processes down the aisle. Time seems to stop. She is all He sees and desires. His heart beats so fast. He prays that her beauty and her love for Him does not overwhelm him in the moment and bring him to tears. And when she gets to the altar, she gives Him her hand, and He gives her his heart (Eucharist). And the two rejoice. Amen
- Catholic Commentary of Sacred Scripture – The Gospel of Luke; Father Pablo T. Gadenz, 2018, Baker Academic
- Food for the Soul; Peter Kreeft, 2021, Word on Fire
- Reflections on the Mass Readings for Cycle C
- CCC = Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, Doubleday.
- The Word on Fire Bible on The Gospels, Bishop Barron