Sunday Sermon for March 27, 2022, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year C
Readings: Josh 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
In the second reading today, St. Paul tells us we have become a new creation in Christ. He tells us the old things have passed away and the new things have come. None of this is our doing. In fact, St. Paul states emphatically that all this is from God. While we know this is accomplished through our baptism, St. Paul reminds us of what happened so that we could be baptized: God has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus.
This reconciliation has brought about a radical change in us. Just as St. Paul tells us that God made Jesus, Who did not know sin, to be sin, so we who are sinners can now become the righteousness of God in Jesus. If we look at things just on a natural level, the exchange is not fair. Jesus loses everything and we gain everything. But if we look at things in a spiritual manner, we begin to see it very differently. Jesus lost nothing because everything He did was done out of love.
Jesus loved us perfectly, which means He gave one hundred percent. In loving, when one gives everything, that person loses nothing. Instead, the beloved gains from what is given, but then returns the love so the One Who initiated the love receives what He did not have previously. So, in giving His entire self, Jesus lost nothing, but we receive Him. If we love Him in return, then He receives what we are giving to Him. If we love Him as He loves us, that is, with our whole heart and soul and strength, then neither loses, but both gain.
All this is predicated upon our willingness to live as a new creation. If we look at the Gospel reading, we are given a glimpse of what this might look like. We hear about the prodigal son who took his share of the inheritance and squandered it. In God’s mercy, He allowed the young man to be brought to nothing. From a Jewish perspective, he was less than nothing because he was taking care of pigs, the epitome of unclean for someone who is Jewish.
As the young man suffered the deprivation he had brought upon himself, we are told he finally came to his senses. He decides to return home, confess his sins, and ask for a position as a servant on his father’s farm. Before he gets to the farm, his father catches sight of him, runs to him and hugs him. Understand, according to the Law, this would make the father unclean. Similar to what we heard earlier, he who did not know sin, became sin.
The father took on the uncleanness of his son, and restored the son to his place in the family. The young man had become a new creation by humbling himself and acknowledging his sins, by having the filth of his past removed through the forgiveness of his father, and by being restored to a place he knew he did not deserve. We are not told anything about what happened later, but if he remained humble and recalled that he was undeserving, hopefully he was transformed into a kind, compassionate person who no longer expected everyone else to do things for him, but was willing to identify with workers and help them.
Our reconciliation with God through the love and humility of Jesus is what makes us a new creation. We are not deserving, but we are loved and we need to respond with love. The joy and the relief this young man in the Gospel experienced must have been somewhat similar to what we hear about in the first reading when the people of Israel finally enter the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the desert. It is interesting how it is prefaced: God says: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” Their sins are forgiven, the yoke of their slavery has been removed, and now they are free to live as the Chosen People of God.
With our sins forgiven, we have the freedom to live as the children of God. This means we are to be like God. Knowing our unworthiness, we need to be humble and charitable. We must be willing to forgive others as God has forgiven us. We must be willing to love others as God love us. While we do not want to dwell on our past, we must always remember where we came from. Being brought into the family, and not being counted as a servant, cannot be a point of pride for us, because it is not our doing. Jesus became what He was not, so that we could become what we were not: we have become a new creation in Christ!
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.