Weekly Introductions to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Lent 4C)

Joshua 5:9-12

Our Hebrew Bible reading records the aftermath of the crossing of the Jordan river into Gilgal (a city at the outer edge of the promised land).  Once there the Israelites participate in two foundational rites: (1) circumcision (not recorded in our reading) and (2) the
Passover (which is recorded in our reading).  On the day of the Passover they begin to eat the produce of the land, and thus the Manna from heaven stops appearing.  The text makes clear that the possession of the land, and the ability to eat of the crops of the land means that God has “rolled away the disgrace of Egypt.”

Psalm 32

Psalm 32 invites the hearer to experience the sweet embrace of divine forgiveness.  The psalmist speaks from his/her own experience.  When the psalmist was silent and did not confess or acknowledge sin then the psalmist wasted away.  When the psalmist confessed sin the psalmist experienced divine forgiveness.  This encourages the psalmist to ask the people to make similar confessions to God during times of distress so that God will hear and forgive.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Paul writes his second letter to the Corinthians to repair relations–both between himself and the Corinthians and between different warring groups at Corinth.  Paul grounds his reconciliation efforts in the transformation the Corinthians received in being “in Christ.”
Paul argues that such a transformation leaves one a “new creation.” Therefore we can not look at any one from a “human point of view.” Because of this all of us are given a “ministry of reconciliation.” Which is to say that if Jesus “reconciled the world to God” and we are to be like him, then we will naturally see the potential in the “new creation” and strive not only to model this reconciliation amongst each other, but also help others experience the healing hand of God.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Our gospel text is the well known, but perhaps misnamed, parable of the Prodigal Son.   The parable is misnamed because it’s central point is the reaction of the older brother and not the return of the prodigal (i.e. the “Prodigal’s Brother” might be a more apt name).  The negative reaction of the older son who stayed at home with the father to the return of the prodigal comes on the heals of Jesus receiving criticism from the pharisees for associating with sinners. This is one of the most difficult parables to listen to with “ears to hear.”  We are naturally sympathetic with the son who stayed with his father.  Doesn’t he have a legitimate gripe?  In similar circumstances today where one child remains faithful to the parents and the other child(ren) goes off to serve his/her own needs don’t we all agree that the child who remained should have a greater share in the family estate?  This parable brings us face to face with God’s uncomfortable (even ‘scandalous’ grace).  The grace of God turns our understanding of rewards and punishments on its head.  In as much as we identify and see ourselves in the position of the older brother we will NOT have comfort in seeing this grace in action.  We will be like the Pharisees.  We will be like the older brother–that is until we become like the prodigal and find ourselves the recipients of God’s grace.  Then, in irony, we suddenly do not understand why anyone could object to God’s free gift.  The son who stayed with his parents is reminded by
his father “all that I have is yours”–similarly as we watch the grace of our father reach out to the wayward of the world, those who stand in the position of the older brothers and experience the grace of God daily must remember the good fortunes bestowed so abundantly on them in every moment of their existence.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts, minds, thoughts, prayers, and hymns for worship consider the abundant grace of God.  The grace of God is experienced in God “rolling away the disgrace of Egypt (our bondage).”  The grace of God is experienced in God making out of us a “new creation” and allowing us to participate in a “ministry of reconciliation” which once again presents us with the community we were meant to have.  The grace of God is experienced in the forgiveness we receive even after we have squandered the father’s rich gifts.  Surprisingly we return home to find still more rich gifts waiting for us.  The grace of God is experienced in the gentle rebuke of the father as we struggle to understand how God could offer still more to those who wasted so much.

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