Life & Soul Life and Soul

The Word this Week: sin diminishes our expectations

The Prodigal Son (1618), by Peter Paul Rubens

Fourth Sunday of Lent
Josh 5:9-12; 2 Cor 5:17-21; Lk 15:1-3 & 11-12 (Year C)

“The Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I have taken the shame of Egypt away from you.’” The words spoken to Joshua announced a new beginning for the children of Israel. They had endured the slavery of Egypt and the years of rootless wandering. Now at last they were established securely, free at last to celebrate the Passover as inhabitants of the Land.

Subsequent history demonstrated the frailty of this new beginning. The bright promise of Israel’s new kingdom soon became a litany of infidelity and missed opportunities. Despite their many blessings, they had not only transgressed, they had also become a people devoid of any sense of the love that had called them into being.

It is a familiar scenario. Sin is so much more than outward transgression. It coarsens the heart, rendering it insensitive to the Father’s healing love. The way forward, both for an unfaithful Israel and for ourselves, would be found only in the Father’s refusal to abandon a wayward people. “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean of all your uncleanness. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I shall put within you. I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my Spirit within you.”

Ezekiel’s promised salvation reached far beyond the remission of sin. It promised that repentant sinners would become the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. To the Apostle Paul this was nothing less than the rebirth of sinful hearts. “For anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work.”

Luke’s parable of the Prodigal Son plays out the journey whereby we also become the Father’s new creation. Like the Prodigal Son’s journey, ours begins with a repentance that acknowledges that we have sinned and no longer deserve to be called God’s children.

At first our repentance cannot reach beyond the desire to escape sin’s isolation. Sin diminishes our expectation of love. The Father’s impetuous embrace of a sinful son was nothing less than the recreation of a broken heart. Such is the grace entrusted to us in the death and Resurrection of Christ.

We must embrace and surrender to the Father’s generosity, mindful of the elder son’s refusal to enter into the Father’s joy. “My Son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours. But it is only right that we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life.”