Studying God’s Word

Joshua 5:9a, 10-12
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 [33C]
The readings for the Fourth Sunday of Lent speak to the depth of God’s desire for reconciliation with us. But as we hear in the readings, true and lasting reconciliation with God must be rooted in repentance.
The first reading is from the Book of Joshua. This is the sixth book listed in the Old Testament and it follows the first five books known as the Pentateuch. Joshua picks up the storyline from the end of Book of Deuteronomy where Moses gives his final speech to the young Israelites before his death and before their entry into the Promised Land. The book is named after Joshua, a general who served as Moses’ trusted assistant in the desert wanderings. The Book of Joshua narrates the occupation and conquest of the Promised Land (the land of Canaan) by the Israelites. In today’s reading, we hear about a historical event that occurred at Gilgal. The manna from heaven that God sent to sustain the Israelites during their forty-year desert journey ceased. Now settled into the Promised Land, the Israelites were able to eat the produce they harvested from the land. Experienced within the context of their celebration of Passover, the Israelites enjoyed a new status with God: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” Reconciled with God and each other, Israel was ready to begin life anew in the land that was originally promised to Abraham eight hundred years earlier and delivered under the leadership and guidance of Moses within their own lifetimes.  
The Gospel reading for today is the parable of the prodigal son. Luke is the only Evangelist to preserve this parable. It is likely, therefore, that Luke believed this parable spoke in a profound way to his largely Gentile Christian community. Jesus directs this parable to the Pharisees and scribes who were complaining about Jesus sharing table fellowship with tax collectors and sinners. As the parable unfolds, it becomes evident that within its original historical context, Jesus may well have intended both the Pharisees and the tax collectors to see themselves as the two sons in the story—the Pharisees as the loyal and faithful son to the father and the tax collectors as the son who squandered his father’s inheritance. At the heart of the father’s compassion and forgiveness for the lost son was the son’s sincere repentance for the sins he committed and the lifestyle he chose to live. It was nearly impossible for the faithful son to show equal mercy as the father did toward the repentant brother. For many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, the concept of the historic God of Israel unconditionally embracing repentant tax collectors and sinners (and even Gentiles) was very difficult to accept. It was largely incongruent with their understanding of the teachings of the law and the prophets.
In his Second Letter to the Corinthians, we hear Paul describe the heart of missionary outreach to the Gentiles as a “ministry of reconciliation.” Describing himself and Timothy (the co-sender of the second letter to Corinth, 2 Cor 1:1) as “ambassadors for Christ,” Paul saw one of the main tasks of believers in Christ is to “be reconciled to God,” since through Christ, God “reconciled us to himself.”
As we continue through the season of Lent, today’s readings remind us not to lose sight that at the core of repentance should lay a sincere disposition for reconciliation.
Dr. Daniel J. Scholz