FROM A READING FOR MARCH 14, FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

'God...through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.' II Corinthians 5:182

The first verse of today's Corinthians reading (II Cor 5:17-21) isn't just the key to understanding our other two biblical passages; it's the key to understanding what it means to be another Christ: "Brothers and sisters, whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come."

Almost always when Paul employs the title "Christ," he's speaking about the risen Jesus, not the historical Jesus. According to the Apostle's theology, the reforming Jewish carpenter became someone completely new and unique on Easter Sunday morning.

Before 3 p.m. on Good Friday, Jesus was still a free, Jewish man. But, as Paul states in chapter three of Galatians, once God raised Jesus from the dead, this new creation became just as much a slave as free, as much a Gentile as a Jew, and as much a woman as a man.

Not only was the person of Jesus new, but those who worked at becoming one with Christ were also new. Jesus and all Christians have stepped into a new world, to experience a new form of existence.

Life-changes
This wasn't the first time God's followers had gone through drastic changes. The author of Joshua refers to one of these life-altering moments in our first reading (Joshua 5:9a,10-12).

After the Israelites' 40-year trek in the wilderness, they were expected to relate to Yahweh, one another and their surroundings in a new way. They were now in the Promised Land, no longer involved in the greatest moment of Jewish history: the Exodus.

At this point, that liberating event was to be commemorated and brought to life in the feast of Passover. They now had to take care of themselves by working the land Yahweh led them to.

Yet the new creation Paul speaks about is a much more radical change. Our Christian newness goes to the heart of who we are.

We aren't expected to change our geography or enter a convent or monastery to surface it. We discover this newness when we change the way we relate to everyone and everything around us.

Reflecting on Galatians 3, author Michael Crosby once remarked, "It took the Church at least 50 years to break down the distinctions between Jew and Gentile; almost 1,800 years to erase the barriers between slave and free; and we're still working on dismantling the wall between men and women."

Prodigal people
Jesus refers to this change in one of His best-known parables (Luke 15:1-3,11-32). The prodigal father's forgiving attitude to his prodigal son is part of the radical frame of mind all Jesus' followers are expected to develop.

Notice how Luke begins this passage: The Pharisees and Scribes remind the crowd, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

They, like the older son, only welcome outcasts back as long as they jump through hoops and are "repentant sinners." Yet Jesus shows a loving parent is never limited by such "normal" procedures of reconciliation with a wayward child. The sinner returns with all the privileges which those who have never "left" enjoy.

Those who become new creations will strive to make such a forgiving frame of mind their own. It's the only way to create a new "normal" in a world that has accepted the old creation for far too long.

(03/11/10)