Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lectionary: 3/10/2013- 4th Sunday of Lent (C)

Prayer of the Day
God of compassion, you welcome the wayward, and you embrace us all with your mercy. By our baptism clothe us with garments of your grace, and feed us at the table of your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

This week we continue talking about how God's ways are different from ours.  We particularly examine how God's concept of forgiveness is strange to us in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  There are theme of coming home and trust that expand on this as well.  Also, we have some hints that Easter is coming!

 Joshua 5:9-12
The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day. While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

The first couple lines of this reading sound odd and disconnected to our ears, so they require a bit of explanation.  The word "Gilgal" is a name, which sounds very similar to the Hebrew phrase "I have removed".  (And no, I'm not going to try to sound that out for you, my Hebrew is legendarily terrible.)  This happens a lot in the Bible, all sorts of places get named after things that happen there, but it's harder for us to tell because, of course, those names are in Greek or Hebrew.

This reading is from the end of the Israelites' wandering in the wilderness.  40 years before they had been enslaved in Egypt, until Moses led them out (through the Red Sea), and they wandered in the desert for a few decades for reasons that would take awhile to explain.  During this time, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, and the Israelites complained about not having enough food for long enough that God started providing them with manna every morning- food that appeared miraculously on the ground every day but the Sabbath.

Anyway, the Israelites have now arrived in Israel, they have raised a set of crops, and they have, for the first time, eaten of those crops.  So this is officially the end of their wandering- they are home.  And God recognizes this by ending the manna, because, not being wanderers, they don't need it anymore.  It's also interesting to note that this happens as they celebrate Passover, which, if you remember the ten plagues from their time in Egypt (or it's easy enough to Google), that is the remembrance of the last plague, that of the first born, which is what prompted their leaving Egypt.

Psalm 32
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’, and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah

Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

There are some lovely themes in this story, but the one that strikes me right off is the implicit trust in God.  We can be honest with God about our sin, because we trust God.  We can take shelter in God's love, and find God as a refuge, because we trust God.  We can be glad and shout for joy, because we trust God.

And near the end- we find that God contrasted with a "bit and bridle".  It sounds to me like the Psalmist is saying that God is not controlling us, as an unthinking animal must sometimes be controlled.  Rather, we are capable of (some amount of) self-control, and because of that we have a different kind of freedom.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Here we have a bit of Easter come early (of course every Sunday is a celebration of Easter, even during Lent) with all things being new in Christ.  And in this passage we're given a short, pithy definition of Christian belief and practice: just as we have been reconciled to God by Christ (that is, our relationship with God has been made right by Christ), we have also been given the "ministry of reconciliation"- we also seek to make relationships right, as Paul says, as ambassadors for Christ.  We are forgiven, and so we forgive; we have been appealed to, and so we appeal.

The concept of reconciliation and "do-overs" is going to get a bit of a workout in the Gospel text.  But I will note here that the "all things being made new" is also a theme that pops up in the book of Revelation, and if you connect it to what's being said here, and has been said elsewhere, it sounds a lot less scary than what some people I've heard of have tried to turn it into.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:  “There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 

But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 

“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’” 

Every time I say this, I am met with blank disbelief, but here we go again: I almost kind of hate this parable.  It drives me up the wall.  Often, when I've heard it preached, it turns into some kind of morality tale about the purity and strength of a parent's love, and that makes me recoil in horror.

Look, I am not about to discuss my family's personal history on the Internet, but let's just say that from the very first time I heard this story, which must have been about age 6 or 7 at the latest, I found it perfectly right and natural to side heavily with the older brother.  Not so much about the "I want a party too" part, but certainly about the "You're celebrating this guy's return? Seriously?" part.

This is the kid who, by asking for his inheritance early, was asking his father to sell half of all he owned.  And his father did it.  And then this kid went into town and spent everything, and came back.  And the father celebrates this?  This is not an example of good boundaries, of healthy relationship, of a parent teaching a kid anything about the world, or indeed parenting.

So being lazy about this parable is one of the fastest ways to get me to stop listening to you.  Because what few people mention, is that this is not an example of good parenting, or indeed what we're supposed to be like.  This parable is surrounded by others where what's happening is bizarre or unthinkable.  We do not throw an expensive party when we find a quarter we lost, we do not risk our entire livelihood when we've lost one small part of it.  And so, when someone has shown themselves to be incapable of planning, budgeting, or in fact basic people skills, we do not throw more money at them and have parties when they show up.  This is not who we are.

Jesus tells story after story of bizarre reactions for just that reason: these stories (and by all means, look them up, this is by far the longest) sound weird and strange to us.  We don't operate that way.  But God does.  This is not a parenting lesson, this is a lesson in how different God's ways are from ours- seems to be an ongoing theme this Lent, doesn't it?  With God, we are home as the Israelites were when they no longer needed the manna.  With God, we can trust and be honest and sheltered as the Psalmist sings.  With God, all things are made new in Christ.  With God, we are forgiven and welcomed, whatever the reason for parting.  All of these sound strange to us, because they aren't what we're used to, or how we're used to working.  But God's ways are strange to us.

Go in peace, love and serve the Lord.  Thanks be to God!

No comments:

Post a Comment