Sunday, March 14, 2010

Laetare ("Rejoicing") Sunday - The Prodigal Father Parable - Under the Son

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, The Return of the Prodigal Son (1670-74)

Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year "C") March 14, 2010 == "THIS FELLOW WELCOMES SINNERS AND EATS WITH THEM" [Texts: Joshua 5:9a,10-12 [Psalm 34] 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3,11-32]

Just as the celebration of Passover marked the beginning of the Exodus, so the celebration of the same feast marked its end (when the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the Passover). Israel's entrance into the Promised Land brought the period of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt to its conclusion.

On the next day, God's gift of manna--nourishment for a pilgrim people--ceased. In place of the heaven-sent food, God's people now feasted on the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain, foods that could be prepared easily and quickly.

The Church has interpreted the Eucharist--Jesus' gift of Himself in Holy Communion--as heaven-sent manna, nourishment for the people of God on their journey to the promised land of Heaven.

Food also plays a prominent role in today's gospel narrative, which begins with the note that Jesus was criticized for welcoming sinners and eating with them. For cultural anthropologists tell us that in the Mediterranean world of Jesus' day only equals could invite each other to share a meal.

The Pharisees and scribes reproached Jesus for the honour He gave to sinners by eating and drinking with them. A rabbinic tradition held that it was praiseworthy to feed sinners, but eating with them was forbidden. To be the host of sinners, as Jesus regularly was, enraged the religious establishment.

In fact, Jesus' reply to the grumbling about His pastoral method began with the parable of a shepherd who had lost one of his hundred sheep, sought it out until he found it and then invited his neighbours to rejoice with him over his successful search.

This parable was followed by its twin tale of a woman who had lost one of her ten coins, swept and cleaned the house until she found it and then invited friends to rejoice with her. Both parables culminated with Jesus' observation of the greater joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Both of these brief parables pictured God's desire to find sinners and bring them back to the fold, to discover the lost. When sinners turn to God, heaven throws a party; it was this prospect that kept Jesus associating with sinners.

The third parable Jesus told has often been entitled the prodigal son. It could just as easily--and perhaps more accurately--be captioned the "forgiving", "prodigal" or "reconciling" father or "the two lost sons".

While the parable gives a great deal of attention to the younger son who squandered his inheritance, the closing verses describe the father dealing with the resentment of the elder son, inviting him to join in the feast. Readers are left to judge what they would do in his place--celebrate his younger brother's reconciliation or stay outside grumbling, as the righteous did over Jesus' behaviour.

The younger son acted shamefully in asking for his inheritance, in effect wishing his father were dead. But the elder son also accepted his share and made no effort to reconcile his brother with their father.

When the younger son squandered all he had, he came to himself, that is began to repent. His plan was to return as a hired hand. Perhaps over time he would be able to pay back what he had lost and even care for his father in his old age, as a dutiful son was expected to.

The father acted totally opposite to what was culturally expected, publicly forgiving his son and healing their broken relationship. The best robe was probably the father's own; it would signify restoration. The signet ring for his finger represented enormous trust, and sandals the freedom enjoyed by a member of the household (for slaves went barefoot). The killing of the calf--enough to feed over a hundred people--meant the whole village would participate in the reconciliation.

The passage chosen from St Luke’s Gospel for the Mass of the Fourth Sunday in Lent (Lk 15:11-32) is probably the most famous of the parables told by Jesus: the parable of the Prodigal Son. The famous picture of The Return of the Prodigal Son (shown here), painted (c.1669) by Rembrandt in his old age, captures the raggedly dressed son, on his knees in repentance, being embraced tenderly by his aged and richly dressed father. The striking play of light, typical of Rembrandt, shows father and son united in a shared private moment against a sombre background, while the solemnity of the occasion is marked by the serious expressions of the silent onlookers.

The restoration of broken relationships may be characterized as being found alive (this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found).

Or, as St. Paul puts it, reconciliation with God is a new creation: See, everything has become new! Today's lenten message, then, is straightforward, we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

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"Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, you who love her; rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts." This Sunday is known as Laetare Sunday and is a Sunday of joy. Lent is half over, and Easter is enticingly near.

This Sunday's mood and theme are ones of hope and rejoicing that Easter is near.

In the reformed calendar this Sunday is scarecely different from the other Sundays of Lent even though the entrance antiphon for the day still begins with the Latin word "laetare" and the vestments worn by the celebrant may be rose-colored, not violet.

The day is important because it is the day of the Second Scrutiny in preparation for the baptism of adults at the Easter Vigil.

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Gearing up for "Under the SON"

A short stay in the Diocesan Centre yesterday morning, to get caught up on mail that came on Thursday and Friday, I came across Ted Hurley and his diocesan youth advisory committee who were doing some remote preparation for the youth rally "Under the Son" for adolescents.

It will take place this year at the end of June (rather than earlier as in previous years), so as to conserve the energies of those in the Youth Office whose time and attention on the Victoria Day weekend will be given to managing Montee Jeunesse/ Youth Summit. On the laptop are some initial conceptional models of the theme for this year's gathering/

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