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God's Word on Sunday: God’s graces come in a timely fashion

  • March 20, 2022

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 27 (Year C) Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; Psalm 34; 2 Corinthians 5:7-21; Luke 5:1-3, 22-32

The journey of the Israelites to the promised land should have taken a few months, but it stretched into 40 years.

Their infidelity and rebellion against God had earned them a long period of cleansing and purgation. The whole generation born in slavery had to die off before their journey could reach completion. It was only now that the devastating effects of generations of slavery — the “disgrace of Egypt” — was lifted, granting them a new life and a bright future.

God had provided manna, quail and water for them during their desert sojourn. Since they had crossed over into the land of promise there was no further need of this kind of support. The manna ceased but the challenges they faced did not. They would face hostile resistance, dissension in their ranks and the difficulties that come with living in a settled community after years of nomadic life.

God provides us with the graces that we need at particular points in our lives, but as we grow and change, so does the manner in which God blesses us. We cannot cling to the past or try to relive past experiences. Some people get stuck at a particular stage of their lives and do not move on, resulting in stagnation.

We need to let go of the things that God has provided for us so that God can bless us in new ways more suited to our present life. A fruitful life entails movement, change and growth, as well as willingness to let go at the appropriate time.

In Christ all things become new; anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. These statements make great slogans, banners and fridge magnets, but there is a profound and vibrant reality behind them. God is reconciling the world and restoring it to its primal unity through Jesus Christ.

Our fragmented and shattered world is being restored — at least that is the plan. Humans seem to take perverse delight in wrecking God’s plans and returning us to chaos. 

Paul knew what was at stake, so he urged his followers to become ambassadors of Christ in order to further God’s work. Being an ambassador means putting aside one’s own ego, fears and desires so that we can represent Christ in word, thought and deed. Never has our ministry of reconciliation been so urgently needed. We dare not slip back into tribalism, paranoia and separation. God depends on us; Christ depends on us; we cannot let them or ourselves down.

Jesus practised this ministry of reconciliation by reaching out to those on the very fringes of society — tax collectors and sinners. He knew that they had to be reconciled to God and He was unwilling to turn away from them.

Jesus responded to criticism of this ministry by relating the story of the prodigal son. We have heard the story countless times. A restless younger son demanded his share of his father’s inheritance and took off to a distant land and indulged in serious partying. But the money ran out — that’s the way it usually works — and he found himself alone and on the streets. Suddenly it was not fun anymore.

Then a famine hit and before long he found himself starving and working at feeding pigs. That was a turning point — he had hit bottom and “came to himself.” He remembered he had a home and a father.

He decided to return and abase himself before his father and beg to be taken back as a hired hand. But when his father saw him in the distance, he ran to meet him, filled with compassion and joy. He did not allow his son to finish his self-denigrating speech. Embracing and kissing him, he ordered up a celebratory feast.

The outraged older son pouted and refused to join the feast, complaining that he had been shortchanged and slighted. He had slaved for years and the father had never given him anything.

The father pointed out that the older son was always with him and could have had anything if he had but asked. As for the younger son, he was lost and now is found; he was dead and is now alive. That was cause for joy, not resentment.

Restoring and reconciling the lost is God’s work, and to be part of it should also bring us joy.