Lent Week 2: Saturday

Lent Week 2: Saturday

Today’s readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20; Psalm 103; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The prophet Micah refers to several geographical locations in today’s first reading. The lush wooded mountain region of Gilead is on the east side of the Jordan, noted for its dense forests and fine springs of water, its olives, grain, and vineyards. And the water from Gilead nourished the plains of Bashan east of the Sea of Galilee. Bashan was the most fertile belt in the Holy Land, noted for its grain and rich pasture. Across the Jordan river valley is Mount Carmel, renowned for its beauty, its breathtaking views of the sea, and as the holy place where Elijah clashed with the prophets of Baal, and God revealed his power. As such, Carmel is a symbol of beauty, fertility and faith, and the name Carmel means ‘garden’. In the Christian tradition, Carmel came to be associated with the Virgin Mary, and was a symbol of spiritual perfection, for on Mount Carmel, the soul encountered God and was united to him.

The first reading thus refers to these places of fertility and life, and asks that God might have mercy, and care for his people once more, and show them his “compassion … treading underfoot our guilt”. And God is to manifest this “clemency”, and his “faithfulness to Jacob and grace to Abraham” which he promised “to our fathers from days of old”, precisely by bringing his people back from the deadly deserts of sin to the abundance, prosperity, and fecundity of Gilead, Bashan, and Carmel.

It is apposite that these readings come right after the feast of the Annunciation, for on that day God indeed made fertile the closed Carmel (i.e., garden) of the virgin Mary’s womb. And through the wondrous act of the Incarnation, God showed his compassion for sinners, and, through grace, restored us to a new and super-abundant life. And in his Son, Jesus Christ, God himself is our Shepherd who leads us to green pastures, and to drink from the living waters of his Spirit. Therefore, everything that Micah prayed for came to pass in an excellent way in the Incarnation of Christ which we celebrated in yesterday’s feast. Hence, echoing what the prophet says God will do in Micah 7:18-20, Mary proclaims that God has indeed accomplished them. God has “filled the hungry with good things … He has helped his servant Israel [i.e., Jacob] in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever”.

So, God has shown us “wonderful signs” again, and he does let us “feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old”. What remains for us during Lent and indeed, throughout our life, is to make the ascent of Mount Carmel. And this journey to spiritual union with God and the perfection of our faith is accomplished with the grace of God. On our part, we must first come to our senses and repent, as the prodigal son did, and return to the Father who is waiting to embrace us. For he is “the God who removes guilt and pardons sin… who does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency”.

Lawrence Lew OP

Fr Lawrence Lew is Prior and Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Rosary and St Dominic, London; he is the Editor of the Province's magazine 'The Dominicans' and Co-ordinator of the Province's Internet Apostolate. He is also the Dominican Order's Promoter General for the Holy Rosary.