Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Fourth Sunday of Lent

FIRST READING (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12)
In those days: The Lord said to Joshua, "This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you."

While the sons 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 next day 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 next day, when they ate of the produce of the land; and the sons of Israel had manna no more, but ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

SECOND READING (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)
Brethren: 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 beg 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.

GOSPEL (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32)
At that time: 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, 'Behold, 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.'

I will arise and go to my father
(Word of Life Community)

Are we in or out?
(Creighton University)

Our father restores and heals
(Fr. Dimitri Tsakas)

A kid comes to his father, and says, in effect, 'I wish you were dead, and this was the day after your funeral. Give me the one-third of your property that's coming to me anyway! Sell a piece of the promised land that you've inherited from our forefathers. I want it. I can't find happiness relating to the people around here. Only money will make me happy.'

Now that father sold the land, which you weren't supposed to do for a reason like this. In that part of the world you could be ostracised or even stoned for that.

And later, I can imagine the neighbour to whom he sold the land leaning on the stone fence dividing their two properties: 'I heard about that kid of yours. Partying every night in the city's redlight district. Everyone's talking about it, old fella. You must be feeling pretty ashamed of that no-hoper you've brought into the world' And the old man would walk away sadly and wonder where he'd gone wrong . . .

The boy learned some hard lessons in the far country. When you've got some money don't trust those who call you 'friend'. Jewish law prohibited contact with pigs, let alone being a keeper of pigs. The husks he felt like eating were the fruit of the carob tree, used for animal fodder - an awful taste, but sometimes eaten by the very poor (something like the stories you hear of destitute people in our country eating from cans of pet food).

But in the pigpen the young man 'came to himself' (it's the term in Greek for emerging from a coma). He put a speech together, offering to become a 'hired servant'.

But the father was out there looking for him. In an ancient middle eastern community the houses are in the centre, the market place and other buildings around them, then a wall, then the open fields. Every day the father would go out into the fields to look for his boy, maybe to escort him past the jeering mob to the safety of his home. The day he saw him, he ran towards him. (Old men in that culture did not run: it was beneath their dignity.)

The boy had his speech ready, but the father wasn't listening. Before the boy could say anything the father threw his arms around him, and kissed him.

One of the key teachings of Jesus was that acceptance precedes repentance. Acceptance in this case came before confession. As the old saying has it: 'Those who are seeking God have already been found by him.' One of the most beautiful aspects of the Christian gospel is that God loves you before you change, as you change, or whether you change or not. Do you believe that?

By the way, I'm glad the boy met the father before he met his older brother!
Excerpted from a sermon preached by the Rev'd Rowland Croucher of John Mark Ministries.

When I disobeyed in ignorance thy fatherly glory,
I wasted in iniquities the riches that thou gavest me.
Wherefore, I cry to thee with the voice of the prodigal son,
saying, I have sinned before thee, O compassionate Father,
receive me repentant,
and make me as one of thy hired servants.
(Orthodox Kontakion)


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