SUNDAY MASS READINGS’ REFLECTIONS 4th Sunday of Lent (Cycle C) – March 31, 2019
Lent is the forty-day period before Easter (Christ spent 40 days in the desert after His baptism where He fasted and was tempted by Satan). These 40 days, excluding Sundays, begin on Ash Wednesday and end on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). Holy Week, the week before Easter, starting on Palm Sunday, includes the Sacred Triduum: the Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper with foot washing, Good Friday, plus the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening. Sundays are excluded from Lent because each and every Sunday represents its own “mini-Easter”, a celebration of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and His resurrection on the first day of the week.
Lent is a special time of prayer, examine, penance, sacrifice and performing good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter. Performing good works include: attending the Stations of the Cross, attending Mass, making a weekly holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, taking time for personal prayer and spiritual reading, making a good confession, fasting from certain foods and other activities; plus, the giving of alms not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. Lent is a season of reflection and mourning and because of this soberness of Lent, Alleluia is not said in prayer, nor sung in the liturgy, nor is clapping done at the end of the Mass during this season. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting (reduction of one’s intake of food) and abstinence (refraining from meat). Meat is defined here as “flesh-meat”: flesh that comes from animals that live on land, or birds. Christians fast from flesh-meat in order to overcome the passions of the flesh. Catholics believe that flesh-meat causes an increase in temptations to lust and anger, and this is why we abstain from flesh-meat. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.
Vestments – Violet or purple is used during Lent as a sign of penance, sacrifice and preparation. At the midpoint of Lent, Laetare Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent), rose vestments are traditionally worn as a sign of joy. We rejoice at the midpoint because we are half-way through our preparation and anticipate the coming joy of Easter.
4th Sunday of Lent Theme: A New Creation Through Reconciliation.
We are now at the midpoint of Lent and this Sunday is called Laetare (“let us rejoice”) Sunday. A mood of joy from God’s mercy, underlies today’s readings about our reconciliation with Him, made possible by Jesus. Reconciliation is both a change of heart and mind (forgiveness), plus a re-orientation within a relationship. Reconciliation can be lost and then require repentance, those who have accepted the Gospel must always allow it to exercise its effect upon them.
Reading 2 summarizes the theme for this Sunday: God created the world (CREATION); Humankind used their Free Will to be disobedient to God (SIN); Jesus through His humanity, passion, death, and resurrection made atonement to God for our sins and God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for us (RECONCILATION); Humankind needs to use their Fee Will to be obedient to God and repent when necessary (NEW CREATION).
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Romans 5:10)
“Be ashamed when you sin, not when you repent.” (St. John Chrysostom)
Reading 1 –Joshua 5:9a, 10-12The Israelites celebrate the Passover in the promised land.
Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 34:2-7 A prayer of praise to God.
Reading 2 –2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Paul preaches our reconciliation with Christ.
Gospel – Luke 15:1-3,11-32 Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
This Bible Study’s primary references used are from St Joseph Sunday Missal, LoyolaPress.com, CatholicCulture.org, Ascension Catholic Church Sunday Reflections, USCCB, Understanding the Scriptures by Scott Hahn, St Thomas Aquinas’ Works, RSV Oxford Annotated Bible, Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, St Charles Borromeo Bible Studies, LUMINA Bible Study, The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild, and Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary.
NOTE: The Lectionary Bible Readings for this Sunday – Readings 1 & 2, Responsorial Psalm, and the Gospel, all appear in purple in the following. Footnotes are included in these passages and the contents of all the footnotes appear at the end of this document.
Reading 1 Joshua 5:9a, 10-12 (Food for the Israelites)
Context – Joshua was born as a slave in Egypt, about 40 years before the Exodus. Joshua was an active participant in the Exodus, and was Moses’ military commander. Before Moses’ death, the leadership of Israel was formally transferred to Joshua. Moses passed all his authority on to Joshua, with the exception of his priestly powers, which went to Eleazar, the son of Aron. Joshua lead the Israelites into the Promised Land which was located on the other side of the Jordan river from where they were encamped. The crossing of the Jordan River involved a miracle – despite being at spring flood level, The Lord stopped the flow of water so that the Israelites, led by the Levelites carrying The Ark Of The Covenant, could cross on dry ground. Once across the Jordan, the Israelites camped at Gilgal where they observed the Passover. The next day, when they began eating from the produce of the Promised Land, the Manna stopped being supplied to them as it had been through their journey for the past 40 years in the desert. After the Promised Land came under the effective control of Israel, Joshua divided the land among the tribes, according to God’s instructions. Joshua died at the age of 110, 25 years after entry into the Promised Land.
Today’s Reading – (Quick background to this reading – Moses has died; Joshua is now the new leader.) In this reading, this Sunday’s theme, defined above, is revealed again but is expressed in Old Testament verbiage: God created the world (CREATION); Humankind using their Free Will became disobedient to God even though He rescued them from Egyptian slavery (SIN); Moses led the Israelites out of the desert after their 40 year punishment for sin and presented them the Ten Commandments (RECONCILATION); Joshua led the Israelis into the Promised Land (NEW CREATION).
The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach (disgrace/humiliation) of Egypt from you.”
While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Responsorial Psalm. Psalm 34:2-7 (The Lord’s Goodness)
This psalm of joy celebrates a God who blesses His people with good things.
R. – Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. [i] I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall be ever in my mouth. [ii] Let my soul glory in the LORD; the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R. – Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Glorify the LORD with me, let us together extol His name. [iii] I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears (troubles).
R. – Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. When the poor one called out, the LORD heard, and from all his distress He saved him.
R. – Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
Reading 2 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 (Reconciliation)
Context – Corinth was the meeting point of many nationalities because the main current of the trade between Asia and western Europe passed through its harbors. Paul started the Church at Corinth in 51 AD and stayed there only briefly to get things started. Five years after the establishment of this Church, trouble arose including: internal divisions, immorality, denials of the Resurrection, and liturgical carelessness. Paul’s pastoral guidance was needed to restore peace and unity by fortifying their commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians takes aim throughout at two vices that underlie the Corinthians’ struggles: pride and selfishness. His second letter to the Corinthians was written to prevent them from falling prey to false prophets.
Today’s Reading – In Christ, the believer becomes a new creation. Christ, through His death and resurrection, has reconciled us to God. In turn, we must be ambassadors of God’s reconciling work.
Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. [iv] And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. [v]
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.
“He that be in Christ, Is a New Creation.
The Old has past and All things Are NEW.
and I’m glad to say today, He Made Me New.” (Eddie James)
Gospel Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 (The Prodigal Son)
Context – Luke was a physician and a follower of Paul. His Gospel was written in 59-61 AD and he also wrote the Book of Acts. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus words and works in Galilee, His journey to Jerusalem, and His last week in Jerusalem. For later chapters of Luke: Jesus is now in Jerusalem for His passion; He has made His triumphal entry which we celebrate on Passion (Palm) Sunday; He has upset the establishment by cleansing the temple. The Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees are all now interested in getting rid of Him. He identifies three epochs of salvation history: the time before Christ, the time of Christ, and the time of the Church and the Holy Spirit. And the two primary themes of his Gospel are: the Christian faith is expressed in one’s actions, and the call to salvation is extended to everyone, Jews and Gentiles. The emblem for St. Luke was given the symbol of an ox (a sacrificial animal) because he speaks of Christ most of all as the Great High Priest who brought Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (“the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”). St. Luke died a martyr’s death in Achaia (Greece).
Today’s Reading – The Parable of the Prodigal (wasteful, reckless) Son. This story could be renamed The Parable of the Forgiving Father since its central focus is not the son and his sin, but the focus is God and His mercy (RECONCILATION), as portrayed by the father. The return of the son is celebrated with a festive meal symbolic of our return to the Eucharist after a time of being distant from God and church. The younger son symbolizes the tax collectors and sinners (us) who distance themselves from God by their sinful behavior. The older son symbolizes the Pharisees (us, also) who distance themselves from God by their sin of self-righteousness. They would rather see a sinner damned than saved. Both are sinners and in need of God’s mercy to become a NEW CREATION. The difference between the two is that the younger son knows that he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy. However, it seems that the younger son’s repentance was only skin deep. He went home because he had run out of money. Yet, his father offered him full and total mercy. Hopefully, the son’s experience of his father’s love would lead him to a more authentic and sincere repentance and commitment. The older son only paid lip service to the law. As one-writer states: “he was lawless within the law.” His heart was resentful and cold. A part of his sin was his refusal or inability to share in the joy of his father over the return of his younger brother, not an easy thing to do. Yet, in God’s eyes, this is the response that is being asked for from this older brother and from us.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation (decadence). When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine [vi]. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned [vii] against heaven and against you I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. 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.’” [viii]
PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you. Background for the Parable of the Prodigal (Lost) Son – Prior to Jesus telling this Parable, He told three other parables. He first told the Parable of the Salt: “If salt loses its taste it’s thrown out.” Then He tells the parables of The Lost Sheep and The Lost Coin. In all three parables, something is lost and if there is no “finding” (reconciliation), then there is no salvation. In the first parable – the taste of salt is lost and can never be restored and the owner of the salt is then without the ability to use that salt. In the second parable – the sheep is lost but there is the possible of restoration if the sheep is found before it dies, and then both the sheep and owner are restored, otherwise both go without. In the third parable – the coin is lost, but, again, there is the possibility of restoration but only if the owner finds it before she dies.
In the first parable, we are the salt and when we never use our Free Will to repent of our sins, therefore, we lose our salvation and Jesus loses the vocation for which He created for us to carry out. In the second Parable, we are the sheep and Jesus is the shepherd. If we allow Jesus to “find” us (our reconciliation) before we die, then He can help us receive eternal salvation. In the third parable, Jesus is the coin, and we are the woman. If we “find” Jesus (our reconciliation) before we die, Jesus can help us receive eternal salvation. Jesus states that when these “findings” occur, there is rejoicing in heaven!
Now, in the Parable of the Prodigal (Lost) Son, which Jesus tells following the above three parables, the Prodigal Son is both the “lost sheep” in parable one – when he first leaves his father, and he is also the “woman” in parable two – when he later seeks out his father. The older brother is the “salt” in parable one.
Catechism 2839 – With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging Him that His name be hallowed, we were in fact asking Him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to Him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before Him. Our petition begins with a “confession” of our wretchedness and His mercy. Our hope is firm because, in His Son, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” We find the efficacious (effective) and undoubted sign of His forgiveness in the sacraments of His Church.
Archbishop Charles Chaput has stated the following in his prior six Lenten Homilies:
Lent is a time for us to start all over again to make things new by examining our hearts (not our minds) for the teachings of Christ.
Lent is a training camp for us (just like the beginning of baseball season) where the basic rules of the “game” are the “10 Words of God” (ie. the Ten Commandments).
Abraham is our Father in Faith. He trusted God and we are to do the same in order to be all that God calls us to be. Trust God and follow Him where ever He leads us. And we will have everlasting life.
Lent is about covenants (promises) – God’s promise to us and our promises to God. God always keeps His promises. We don’t and when we break our covenants, God gives us a chance to begin again – ie. LENT!
To the Jews the heart was interpreted as the place within them where decisions were made, a place of intelligence. Therefore, that’s what God used in referring to the new covenant that He would “write it on their hearts” as opposed to the old covenant that was written on stone tablets. Thus the “heart” of Christianity is to be obedient to God our Father through His Son Jesus.
To the Greeks, the term “seeking” means “to learn about”. Therefore the Gospel reading identifying that there were “Greeks seeking Jesus” meant that they wanted to learn about Jesus. The Gospel also mentions that Jesus said we need to “die” (ie. “give up what it is”) to ourselves in order to amount to something worthwhile. The foundation of Christian morality (ie. what are we to do) is to die to ourselves and live for God and others by imitating the life style of Jesus.
The Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) message is that we should joyfully become the persona (character and personality) of Jesus.
The Lenten messages for the first three Sundays of Lent are related to us (our personal conversion) the last three are related to Jesus (the One to whom we are to be converted).
a. Remember our Baptism. Remember our cleansing from Original Sin and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In baptism, Christians clothed themselves in Christ. Paul now urges his readers to clothe themselves with the virtues that befit a follower of Christ: forgiveness, kindness, patience, love, etc.
b. “Listen to Him”. Follow God’s pronouncement, immediately stated after Jesus’ Transfiguration, that we are to listen to Jesus.
c. Worship the right God. Remember the first Commandment and don’t let worldly endeavors become more important than God in our lives.
d. Practice self-discipline. Avoid putting ourselves in the near occasion of sin – ie. avoid temptation, depart from evil.
e. Salvation through Jesus Christ. Sin cannot overcome the power of our belief in the saving grace of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
f. God established Jesus as His New Covenant with humanity. God’s new law is now “written on the flesh” rather than stone tablets.
g. Renew our “hearts”, imitate Jesus and “die” to ourselves. Follow the Ten Commandments per Jesus’ real life example (by His thoughts, words, and deeds) and perform proper stewardship of our time, talents, and treasure in support of God and others.
h. Have the attitude of Jesus. Emptying oneself for the love of the Father by service to Him, leading to glory and resurrection.
[i]Responsorial Psalm Footnotes: “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” = “Taste” means to become personally familiar with.
[ii]“His praise shall be ever in my mouth.” = The just people praise God in adversity, as well as in prosperity.
[iii]“let us together extol His name.” = “If you love God, draw all others to the love of God.” – St. Augustine
[iv]Reading 2 Footnotes: “the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” = Once St. Paul thought of Christ simply as a man shamefully crucified. After Paul’s conversion, he now knows Him as the Risen Lord, head of a new creation into which the believer is incorporated.
[v]“For our sake He made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” = Christ became sin in the sense that He was born, like us in weakened “flesh”, and took upon Himself all human sinfulness. Christ took on our sinful humanity so that we might take on His righteousness. Paul does not say “made Him a sinner”; the sinless Christ bore the burden of our sin that we might be acquitted.
[vi]Gospel Footnotes: “swine” =A swine is the ultimate indignity to a Jew. Pigs were unclean animals and anyone who touched them became unclean (Leviticus 11:7-8).
[vii]“Father, I have sinned” = He has done his examination of his conscience, recognizes his sinfulness with full contrition. He’s ready for Confession.
[viii]“he was lost and has been found.” = Jesus’ aim was to portray the difference between God’s loving forgiveness (ie. the father) and the self-centered complacency/self-righteous (ie. the older son) that not only denies love, but cannot understand it.