Lent. Week 4, Sunday

The prayers, Readings and reflection offered here are for Lent 4. Click here for “Year A Readings” used when the Scrutinies are celebrated for the Elect.

Rejoice, Jerusalem, and all who love her. Be joyful, all who were in mourning; exult and be satisfied at her consoling breast (Isaiah 66: 10-11).

O God,
Who through your Word
reconcile the human race to yourself in a wonderful way,
grant, we pray, that with prompt devotion and eager faith
the Christian people may hasten toward
the solemn celebrations to come.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM (click for full Psalm)
Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. (Psalm 34: 9).

SCRIPTURE EXCERPT (click for all readings)
“Brothers and sisters:
Whoever is in Christ is a new creation:
the old things have passed away;
behold, new things have come.
And all this is from God,
who has reconciled (καταλλάξαντος) us to himself through Christ
and given us the ministry of reconciliation (καταλλαγῆς),
namely, God was reconciling (καταλλάσσων the world to himself in Christ,
not counting their trespasses against them
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (καταλλαγῆς).
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled (καταλλάγητε) to God.
For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,
so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
(II Corinthians 5:17-21).”

Popularly referred to as the “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” Jesus’ teaching about His Father’s boundless and limitless mercy is one of Christianity’s signature and defining marks. When examining Jesus’ teaching about forgiveness, this Parable certainly stands front and center, grounded in the often-contentious friction of family inheritance. The Lucan presentation of this Parable, though, does not speak of “forgiveness” per se and for that matter the words “mercy” and “reconciliation,” to name only two, are absent as well. For Luke, the Parable’s genesis lies in Jesus’ action of Table Fellowship: ‘welcoming sinners and eating with them’ that provides all an experience of ‘being found (a very important image in Luke’s Gospel)’ and ‘coming back to life.’ Such is the abundantly rich biblical vocabulary when it comes to sin and God the Father’s desire that none of us be lost and all be saved. But such a rich vocabulary can blur, in the popular perception, the depth of meaning these words convey. One runs the risk of casually lumping all the words together and viewing them as mere synonyms of each other. In light of this, Saint Paul’s words to the Corinthians offer some valuable lessons.

In this Lenten Sunday’s proclamation, Saint Paul speaks some variation of “to reconcile” 5 times in 4 verses, a point that is hard to miss. καταλλάσσω (katallasso) is the Greek verb that is translated “to reconcile.” It is an interesting verb formed by the preposition κατα (kata) and the verb ἀλλάσσω (allasso). Fundamentally, ἀλλάσσω (allasso) means to “effect/cause/put-in-place a difference that is noticeable.” The noticeable change or difference comes about because ‘something’ has been removed. An aspect of a given reality, previously present but now removed, results in a different reality. In terms of the word’s usage in antiquity, the resulting difference is not necessarily a good or an evil but as it evolved in Christian living, it became associated with the ‘removal of sin that made a difference in one’s life.’ In terms of the Christian Scriptures, especially the Letters of Saint Paul, καταλλάσσω (katallasso) marks the “difference” by ‘exchanging one reality for another.’ When applied to and dealing with people, καταλλάσσω (katallasso) very often speaks of ‘exchanging hostility for a different, more proper (friendly) relationship.’ From this context emerges the often used English word “to reconcile” as a meaning for καταλλάσσω (katallasso).
One could argue that καταλλάσσω (katallasso) brings a certain ‘conscious’ activity to the big picture of forgiveness. While certainly affirming the primacy of Grace and the Father’s gracious initiation of any noble endeavor, there is a ‘human’ factor involved in forgiveness. Accepting God the Father’s forgiveness or the forgiveness offered by another person requires the recipient to actively and consciously exchange one reality for another. “I am sorry” is not an act of ‘dumping’ one’s sins in a spiritual landfill and walking away with a sense that ‘I got rid of my sins and offenses.’ A noticeable difference is necessary in life, exchanging 1 ‘state’ or condition for another. Examples of this are clear in the lives of the father’s 2 sons in the parable. The younger son initially exchanged his filial relationship for one of entitlement leading to debauchery. “Coming to his senses (see Anthony Lilles blog on this point),” he exchanged his enslaved condition for what he thought would be that of his father’s hired hands … only to discover that the father would have no part of that since the ring and garments expressed the noticeable difference that he was, is and always will be “son.” Similarly, the elder son exchanged his filial relationship as well and the exchange was not a good one. He viewed himself, not as son, but as one who toiled for his father and in the end expressed his hostility towards his father and ‘that son of yours (in other words, ‘not my brother’).’
One can not help but call to mind the creative word spoken in the Sacramental penitential encounter with Jesus:

God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of His Son has reconciled the world to Himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit.

God the Father’s work of exchanging the hostility of the fallen world for the re-created world is the power of the Paschal Mystery. As the first sin caused hostility and alienation in the relationship between God and humanity, so the same continues in our “yes” to sin. We harm ourselves when sin is casually dismissed, diluted or rationalized as ‘developmental challenges.’ Sin in the context of this Sunday’s Lenten Word introduces hostility: hostility in our relationship with the Divine Persons, hostility with and towards one another, hostility towards the true self and hostility with all of creation. As the first act of creation exchanged nothingness for reality, chaos for cosmos by the utterance of the effective Divine Word (dabar), the same Loving Father pronounces the same word to each of us that will exchange the condition of sin for that of freedom as son or daughter in the Son. Will I avail myself of that encounter to hear that creative word that will reconcile me to God the Father and one another?