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MARCH 14, 2010: FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings: 

Joshua 5:9a, 1O-12
II Corinthians 5:17-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The first verse of today’s II Corinthians reading isn’t just the key to understanding our other two biblical passages; it’s the key to understanding what it means to be another Christ. “Brothers and sisters, whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come.”

Almost always when Paul employs the title “Christ” he’s speaking about the risen Jesus, not the historical Jesus. According to the Apostle’s theology, the reforming Jewish carpenter from Capernaum became someone completely new and unique on Easter Sunday morning. At one minute before 3 PM on Good Friday, Jesus was still a free, Jewish man. But as Paul states in chapter three of Galatians, once God raised Jesus from the dead, this new creation became just as much a slave as free, as much a Gentile as a Jew, and as much a woman as a man. Reality as we experienced it was turned upside down. Not only was the person of Jesus new, but those who worked at becoming one with Christ were also new. The old categories by which we’re identified and limited no longer apply. Jesus and all Christians have stepped into a new world, we’ve begun to experience a new form of existence.

This wasn’t the first time God’s followers had gone through drastic changes. The author of Joshua refers to one of these life-altering moments in our first reading. Once the Israelites crossed the Jordan after their 40-year trek in the wilderness, they were expected to relate to Yahweh, one another and their surroundings in a new way. They were now in the Promised Land, no longer involved in the greatest moment of Jewish history: the Exodus. At this point in their salvation history, that liberating event was to be commemorated and brought to life in the yearly feast of Passover. Since the manna stopped, they now had to take care of themselves by working the land Yahweh led them to. From that moment on, things were different.

Yet the new creation Paul speaks about is a much more radical change than anything the former runaway-slaves experienced. Our Christian newness goes to the very heart of who we are. We aren’t expected to change our geography or enter a cloistered convent or monastery to surface it. We only discover this newness when we change the way we relate to everyone and everything around us. Reflecting on Galatians 3, author Michael Crosby once remarked, “It took the church at least 50 years to break down the distinctions between Jew and Gentile; almost 1,800 years to erase the barriers between slave and free; and we’re still working on dismantling the wall between men and women.”

Even before his resurrection, Jesus refers to this unique change of thought and behavior in one of his best- known parables. The prodigal father’s forgiving attitude to his prodigal son is part of the radical frame of mind all Jesus’ followers are expected to develop.

It’s essential to notice how Luke begins this pericope. The Pharisees and Scribes remind the crowd, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” They, like the father’s older son, have no problem welcoming such outcast back into the fold as long as they jump through the proper hoops and be forever classified as “repentant sinners.” Yet Jesus shows how a loving parent is never limited by such “normal” procedures of reconciliation when dealing with a wayward child. The sinner returns with all the privileges and status which those who have never “left” enjoy.

Those who become new creations will strive to make such a forgiving frame of mind their own. Certainly not the way “normal” people are expected to act. But it’s the only way to create a new “normal” in a world that has accepted the old creation for far too long.