Fourth Sunday of Lent: Maturity in Faith
Readings: Joshua 5:9a.10-12; Psalm 34(33):2-3.4-5.6-7; 2nd Letter to the Corinthians 5:17-21; St Luke 15:1-3.11-32.
The Lenten season invites us to value three essential things: Prayer, Alms-givingand Penance (which is usually done by fasting… my elder sister reminded me the other day that “Fasting doesn’t mean eating fast food”).
These three go with repentance. Prayer, Penance and Alms-giving transform us, making us realise that we need more God in our lives, inviting us to repentance. The kind of ‘more God’ that we need in our lives might not be what we have been used to. That is what is expressed in the parable of the prodigal son and I want to connect this parable to the first reading.
When one looks at the attitudes of both sons and the “state” of the people of Israel, it is easy to find a connection: the elder son who never left his father, worked for him, in a few words: he was a good and well behaved son. He does not seem to like the fact that his father is welcoming the debauched son. He lives to please the father and he is actually like any slave. The younger one – the debauched one, if you would like – has broken his father’s heart. He returns and hopes that his father – whom he obviously knew to be an ever-loving and ever-forgiving father – would forgive him. He learnt from his mistakes and now has grown up from that.
And that is where I find that the Gospel meets the first reading: the Israelites, who used to be fed by God in the desert, no longer need the manna. They have grown up enough to use the experience they have of God: his mercy, his tenderness, his forgiveness when they had strayed in the desert. As the prodigal son, they have gone through an unfortunate moment which they have managed to transform into a blessing. The time spent in the desert made them grow up and now they no longer need the manna from heaven. The Passover, when they cross the Jordan, is – to use an African term – their initiation ceremony: they are now grownups.
As Christians, it sometimes happens that we become like the elder son or the people of Israel in the desert. We are comfortable because we are fed, nurtured and looked after. In return, we feel then obliged to respond and do some work that pleases God to keep the relationship going. However, that does not mean that we understand God’s love well. We might be doing some bargain with God: we would behave and God would look after us in return.
Our Christian lives owe to reach that stage of maturity, where we become responsible because we know that God trusts us, we love not because we are fed as kids by God and we would work to please him as kids can do for their parents. We are invited to start a more intimate, trusting relationship. When we become fully aware of the loving kindness of God, we no longer shake in his presence. We rejoice like the prodigal son forgiven, like the people of Israel, who ate the fruits of land and had a whole new experience of God’s loving-kindness.