4th Sunday in Lent

1st Reading

Joshua 5:1-5; 8-15 

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.’ So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed. The Lord said to Joshua, "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.


While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the Passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

Once when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, ‘Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?’ He replied, ‘Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped, and he said to him, ‘What do you command your servant, my lord?’ The commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.’ And Joshua did so.

2nd Reading

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 

Brothers and sisters,


From now on, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat 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; 11b-32 

At that time, all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them." So Jesus told them this parable: 

"There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.' So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up 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 like one of your hired hands."' 

So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then 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 slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 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!' And they began to celebrate. "

Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.' Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, 'Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!' 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.'"

March 27, 2022| 4th Sunday in Lent

Moses, the great leader of the people of Israel, dies outside the promised land. It is his successor, Joshua, who brings the people in. Joshua is the one who reorganizes the people under the covenant with God. All the males of the twelve tribes undergo circumcision, the traditional sign that a covenant is “cut” between God and the people. After they have been given the gift that they expected, a new land where they can live and grow, they are ready to be in a covenant with God again. They sound a bit like us. When things go well, that is, according to our expectations, we are ready to be faithful and trust life again. I am not going to fault anybody for this. I am just observing how the ebb and flow of trust is related, often and easily, to our perception of the situation. When things are hard, it is harder for us to trust and we behave like the people of Israel in the desert: we complain, we fight with each other, we make bad choices. When things get better, we believe in the goodness the Lord. We actually need trust especially when things are not very good, when we find ourselves at some difficult turn. Yet that's not how we operate, most of the time.

       The parable of the prodigal son, as it is often called, is usually seen as presenting the largeness of the mercy of God. Luke, who likely received it as a piece of oral tradition, places it together with two other shorter parables, which we did not read today: the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin. The connection is that in all three parables there is something lost (a sheep, a coin, a son) and all three parables end with a great feast because what is lost has been found. Luke also prefaces the three parables by saying that Jesus told them as teaching related to his habit of hanging out with the wrong people, that is, with the lost people. Jesus behaves quite strangely, dining with collaborators of the Romans and even with prostitutes, but he makes clear through these three stories that he intends to keep behaving in such a highly irregular way. God, who is being represented by Jesus through his behavior, goes on a hunt for the lost soul until he gets it back. The main characters of the three stories--the shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep in the desert to look for the lost one, the woman who cleans the whole house to find one cent, and the father who runs out of the house to hug the son who disrespected him--are very odd people! Theirs is not rational behavior. It is a behavior motivated by a crazy love, and God in Jesus embodies such a love.

       The parable of the lost son, however, is a bit more complex than the other two and does something more than praise the greatness of God's love for us sinners. Because it ends with this glorious sentence, “He was dead and he came back to life, he was lost and he is found!” we might have the impression of a happy ending. Not so, I am afraid. If we read the story accurately, we see that neither of the two sons is able to accept what the father is offering. The younger son, the one who left home after hurting his father very deeply, comes back not because he has truly changed his mind, but because he is desperate. He concocts what to tell to his father in order to get something more from him, despite what he already got: half of the family wealth! The father offers him the treatment of a prince, but the story records no reaction on the part of that son. The younger son is unable to understand the behavior of his father, or to welcome the unconditional love and forgiveness that he offers. In fact, we cannot properly talk of forgiveness, because forgiveness entails real repentance. Besides, the father is not interested in hearing words of repentance and does not express words of forgiveness. The older son does not understand the behavior of his father either. The father explains that all he owns he is willing to share with his elder son, who can take anything he wants. To no avail. The parable does not record any understanding on the older son's part. There is really no happy ending, no reconciled family in this story. There is a father who behaves in very odd ways, completely unsuited to a patriarch, and two sons who do not understand him at all.

       If we take the father to represent God, and the sons to represent us, we see that whether we are faithful and obedient like the older son, or unfaithful, disobedient, and offensive like the younger son, God treats us the same. But this very fact makes no sense to us at all. Don't we read in the Bible that the sons of Israel who did not trust God died in the desert, while those who keep his covenant will flourish in the promised land? That makes some kind of sense. We want things to be proper. For example: you do something wrong, then you apologize and pay your penalty; then, and only then, your rights and position are restored. The traditional penitential system of the Church works largely in such a way. It is a rational thing. But God, according to this parable, is not rational at all. God throws us a feast, no matter what. God feeds us with manna--that is, survival food-- while we are in the desert of our pain and loneliness, but God wants us to get the best food in the promised land as soon as we are able to enter it. We are the ones who care about regularizing our covenant with God. This is good. It makes us become responsible adults, and we also can know who is in and who is out--for example, through  circumcision as a sign of belonging to the God of the covenant. Our assumption of responsibility is commendable, while our policies of membership are less so, but all of this pales into insignificance before the infinity of God's love. And, yet – pay attention!- the infinity of God's love does not win the day. The two sons remain shocked and unhappy.

       We also should be shocked, if we listened carefully. This parable is a huge challenge to the limitations of our mind. It is a direct condemnation of our attempts to understand and control God. We don't really agree that God should love everybody equally, independently of their behavior. We don't understand that to follow the stipulations of the covenant, when they exist, is good for us, it makes us happier, but does not change God's attitude a bit. We forget that the covenant, at the beginning, is the unilateral agreement that God “cuts” with Abraham, the choice that the Source of Life makes in order to be at the complete disposal of the human side of the pact, without asking anything in return.

       How can we trust such an incomprehensible God? How can we believe that the love of God is true, infinite, and directed specifically to ourselves as well as to everybody else? All of us, independently of our circumstances, are pretty far from completely trusting God. Paul cries out: “Let yourself be reconciled with God!” What does he mean? Can God embrace us and unite us with himself, just as a father welcomes and embraces a lost son? How does this happen? I take these to be the most important questions in a person's life. To these questions there are no general answers, valid for all. Each of us must struggle with our own knots, unraveling and re-reading the story of our own life to learn where the stream of trust was interrupted. If we learned again to trust God as a child trusts that child’s parents, would our deserts magically turn into meadows and fertile land? Yes and no. Hardships and worries would remain, but the landscape would be graced with desert flowers and the manna would taste like the bread of angels. The promised land, after all, would not seem so far away. AMEN.


 Gianluigi Gugliermetto