March 6, 2016 — Fourth Sunday of Lent
We are more than halfway into our Lenten journeys. Have we made any significant changes in our lives? What have we done to deepen our faith? What have we done to live out our faith more fully? Those are efforts which should be important to us during Lent.
This week is called Laetare Sunday, which is the case for the Fourth Sunday of Lent each year. The word “laetare” comes from the first words of the introit for Mass, Laetare, Jerusalem, which we translate to mean “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” It may seem wrong to express joy in the middle of a penitential time like Lent, but the Church does this on purpose. Laetare Sunday is traditionally viewed as a day of celebration, a time when the soberness of Lent is briefly eliminated. The passage from the Book of Isaiah from which the introit is drawn continues in this way: “…rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow.” Everything in the liturgy can be more colorful on this day.
Our readings on this day reflect that joy. The First Reading comes to us from the Book of Joshua. It implies two things which should make us joyous. First, it indicates that God is no longer going to provide the invaluable Manna which sustained His people. It was a time when they entered into a new partnership of trust with the Lord. They had to trust God to provide for them in other ways. We need to celebrate that God always provides. We need to trust Him implicitly. Trust, of course, is at the heart of stewardship. It is trust in God which allows us to make the commitments and take the risks associated with a stewardship way of life. Thus, we seek reconciliation with God.
You may recall that the Philippians lived in Greece, and St. Paul first visited them around 50 AD. This letter was written about 10 years after that first visit. Paul was particularly fond of the people of Philippi. In today’s Second Reading Paul speaks of those who have accepted and embraced Christ as their Savior as being a “new creation.” Having accepted that fact, each of us must respond in new and unique ways. Like the trust in the reading from Joshua, this reading calls us not only to trust, but also to do something to reflect that trust. We are called to conversion, and even more so to reconciliation with God. That reconciliation is also an important aspect of our Lenten journeys. That is another reason to be joyful for the old things have passed away and all things have become new.
“But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.” With those words, the father of the prodigal son declares a time to celebrate, a time like today’s time of rejoicing. The word “prodigal” means “wastefully extravagant,” but this parable of Jesus is also called the Parable of the Two Sons because Jesus is teaching much using both sons as examples.
The key to this parable and what puts all of the readings on this Laetare Sunday in perspective is the redemption of the wayward son. Most of us recognize that the father in the parable represents God. Just as God grants each of us free will, the father in the parable allowed his son who wished to have his inheritance immediately that same kind of freedom — you might say the freedom to sin and fail.
When he has fallen as far as possible, is wallowing in poverty and guilt, the prodigal son declares, “I shall get up and go to my father.” He does not say I am going home, and he does not express homesickness; he says quite simply that it is time to return to his father, to return to God. Now is the time for us to do the same. It is time for us to recognize that we are a new creation; to know that God watches over us and to trust in Him; and to seek reconciliation and redemption through Him.