Photo by Unsplash.
Photo by Unsplash.

The fourth Sunday in Lent is also called “Laetare Sunday” or rejoice Sunday. We rejoice for Easter draws ever nearer. Our readings this weekend spell out so clearly why we should rejoice and how this gift of joy is made possible for us. The readings also give us an image of what this joy is like: a wonderful and celebratory feast where all are invited. 

As with Moses’ life and history-changing encounter with God in last week’s reading, our First Reading this weekend (Joshua 5: 9, 10-12) recounts another historic moment. After leaving Egypt, God’s people have been wandering in the desert for 40 years as they journeyed toward the Promised Land. Now they have arrived! God had fed them in the desert with the “manna,” but now they feast on the produce of the Land. This sense of feasting and of God’s care in feeding His people is also taken up in the Psalm (Psalm 34): taste and see the goodness of the Lord.

Of course, we too are fed by the Lord. We too taste and see His goodness. Not with manna or the produce of the land as such, but with the Eucharist. The prayers offered as the bread and wine are prepared at Mass make this clear… The bread that Earth has given and human hands have made becomes for us the bread of life…the fruit of the vine and work of human hands becomes our spiritual drink. This is indeed a cause for rejoicing!

Our second reading (2 Cor. 5: 17-21) also tells us about the why and the how of our rejoicing. Furthermore, it gives us a new way of looking at people and the world that will bring us joy. Whoever is in Christ is a new creation. Indeed, we have been reconciled to God in Christ. The word St. Paul uses for reconciliation literally means being “put into friendship with God.” 

However, the word is also a two-way word, since it also means “leading others to friendship.” As we have been made new through this friendship in Christ, so we are called to bring others to be reconciled with God. In fact, we are called to be ambassadors for Christ. Like any good ambassador, may we truly represent, or better still re-present the one who has sent us as His representative.

Our Gospel (Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32) is a favorite parable for many. Like the parable of the Good Samaritan, or the mention of the crucified but repentant thief, this parable occurs only in Saint Luke’s Gospel. Indeed, his Gospel is often called the “Gospel of Mercy.” The context of our parable is important. We begin by hearing how the so-called good people are complaining, or more literally “murmuring.” Interestingly, it is the same word that is used about Israel grumbling in the desert about the food God has provided, or the crowds muttering when Jesus says he is “the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6: 41).

What is their complaint? Jesus is associating, and worse still eating, with the wrong sort. In eating with them, he is also defiling himself ritually. In response, Jesus gives three parables. As one can see above, we miss out verses 4-10. These verses contain the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Both involve a searching for the lost and then feasting and rejoicing when they are found. Notice the conclusion to these parables: I tell you that in the same way there will be rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. This gives an added richness and meaning to the conclusion of the parable of the prodigal son. The father is filled with joy and orders a feast for his son who was lost, but has now been found, who was dead but has come to life again.

We too rejoice because we were lost but are now found, as the hymn “Amazing Grace” puts it. This is the joy we have at Easter, as we renew our sense of being invited to the Paschal Feast of heaven. Like the younger son, we just need to come to our senses and renew our friendship (reconciliation) with God. But we must not stand aloof, or be disdainful of the “wrong sort” of people. No, we are to bring others to this joyful friendship, that is to be true ambassadors of Christ.