We are just past the half-way point in Lent. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem for the last time, and Easter is a light on the horizon, because we live Lent with Easter in mind. The message for this Sunday is on the lips of St. Paul in today’s Second Reading: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
In today’s First Reading the Lord tells Joshua that the forty years that Israel spent in the desert, due to their rebellion rebelling against him, are over. The Israelites have just entered the Promised Land, and for the first time in forty years they eat the Passover meal using the food of the Promised Land instead of manna, a fine powder God gave them each day in the desert to bake into bread: “a fine, flake-like thing, fine as hoarfrost on the ground” (Exodus 16:14). The Israelites spent had forty years in the desert, suffering and toiling, to reconcile with God after they mistrusted him and complained against him. They have finished their time of penance, which is why God tells them: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” Every time they grumbled and complained, they resented leaving Egypt. Egypt symbolized strange gods, evil customs: in a word, sin. Through forty years of penance the Israelites had reconciled themselves with God.
The sacrament of Confession, the Catechism tells us, “is called the sacrament of Reconciliation, because it imparts to the sinner the love of God who reconciles: ‘Be reconciled to God.’ He who lives by God’s merciful love is ready to respond to the Lord’s call: ‘Go; first be reconciled to your brother’” (CCC 1424). Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with each other go hand in hand. At the start of each celebration of the Eucharist, we pray in the Penitential Rite, confessing our sins to God and our brothers and sisters and asking each other to pray to God that we might be forgiven for our sins. We know that we have reconciled with God, and received his love again, when we are willing to reconcile with others. John in his first letter says anything else is a lie: “We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:19-20).
Today’s Gospel, in the parable of the Prodigal Son, a moment to be reconciled is at hand for the whole family. We don’t need to do much moral math to see that the Prodigal Son blew it and is sorry. At first it seems he is just sorry that he doesn’t have anything else to eat, due to using up all his father’s money and then being in a famine, but when he comes back home, he has his lines all rehearsed: “Father, I have sinned 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.”’ He barely says the words before his father gives him a big hug and calls for him to be dressed again as his son should be, and to throw a big feast. In an instant he goes from starving pig herder to a re-birthday party.
The tougher case that sometimes we overlook is the older brother; he couldn’t believe what his little brother did, but he was even more confused over what his father did. In his words to his father we see there is some resentment, not only toward his younger brother, but toward his father. This bears the risk of leaving the older brother outside in the cold: he doesn’t want to reconcile with his father, nor with his brother. The parable doesn’t say how the older brother reacted to his father’s words. If we feel like the older brother sometimes, this leaves the story open to a happy ending or sad one.
Let’s spend the last few weeks of Lent reconciling with God and with others in order to have a truly happy ending to our story. The drama between the loving Father, the younger wastrel of a son, and the angry older brother is a parable of God the Father’s mercy, but it is also not far from the drama of many estranged families today. Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with others goes hand in hand. Lent is a time of reconciliation, even when that reconciliation is painful, as Our Lord teaches us on Calvary. Like the Father in todays parable, God didn’t have to reconcile with us, because he did nothing wrong. Yet he did, in his Son. If you are experiencing the drama in your own life of being estranged from someone, even if you were not at fault, take the first step this Lent toward reconciliation, in imitation of Our Lord.
Readings: Joshua 5:9a, 10–12; Psalm 34:2–7; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21; Luke 15:1–3, 11–32. See also 4th Sunday of Lent, Cycle C, 31st Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday and 2nd Week of Lent, Saturday.