Our first reading, taken from the Book of Joshua, has heavy Eucharistic overtones. Reading it I was put in mind of the prayer the priest says, usually silently, but sometimes audibly, when he first takes our offering of bread and lifts it up to God:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,The response to this prayer is: “Blessed be God for ever” (Ibid).
for through your goodness we have received
the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life (The Roman Missal, "The Order of Mass," sec. 23)
When Jesus was on earth, both during the Last Supper and for forty days after his resurrection, the Eucharist was a strange duality- the one who becomes present in and through the Eucharist is already actually present. Nowhere is this duality better explained than in Luke’s narrative telling of the disciples who encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus (see Luke 24:13-35). Walking the seven miles home from Jerusalem to Emmaus (seven being the biblical number of completion), they did not recognize the stranger who joined them along the way. Arriving home at dusk, they invited the stranger to dine with them. It was not until the stranger blessed, broke, and gave them bread that they recognized Jesus, at which point he vanished.
After Jesus’s ascension and since the descent of Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the primary way Christ remains present among us, in us, and through us until he returns is by means of the Eucharist. Something very similar is in play in our first reading.
Once the Israelites enter the land of Canaan, within which is contained the land God promised to Abraham and his descendants, God stopped providing them with manna from heaven. They were now to begin settling and cultivating the land. From this point on, this is how they would taste and see God’s goodness, not in the miracle of fresh manna every morning.
Like the ancient Israelites, who, as a result of our rebirth through baptism, are our ancestors in faith, we are to be cultivated so we can bear fruit like the land of Canaan and the fig tree in last Sunday’s Gospel. If the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are our spiritual fertilizer, so to speak, then practicing the three fundamental disciplines of prayer, fasting, and alms-giving is how we are cultivated to bear fruit for God’s kingdom These spiritual disciplines are means to the end of loving God with your entire being and loving your neighbor as you love yourself.
Today’s Gospel is one of most well-known Bible stories. I think we are often too quick, however, to identify with the prodigal. To some extent, we certainly can. But, as church-goers, as faithful members of Christ’s church, who take our obligations seriously, I think it’s good for us to take a moment to consider the older brother in the parable.
Up front, it is important to point out that in no way is the older brother portrayed as evil or bad. On the contrary, the inspired author of Luke never lets his reader lose sight of the fact that the older brother remained faithful and steadfast in his filial duties while his younger brother, having taken his inheritance early, was off living it up. If you don’t find the older brother’s reaction to his father throwing his n’er do well brother a great big party, then you’re not hearing the story in a human way. You just might perhaps be giving yourself a little too much credit.
How wonderful, we sometimes think, that God forgives my sins! Yet, upon hearing news of some horrible thing one person did to another, or one group of people did to another group of people, we are often quick to condemn, not just the terrible act, but the person who committed it. We call for the perpetrator(s) to be retributively punished to the fullest extent. By doing this we betray our faith. One significant proof of this is that, at least in the United States, nearly two-thirds of people still support the death penalty.
The Catechism notes that “the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that ‘the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person’, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2267- online version not updated to reflect the change made by Pope Francis last summer- see "State your peace tonight"). In fact, the church teaches that punishment for crimes serves three purposes: the preservation and protection of the common good of society, the restoration of public order, and the restoration or conversion of the offender (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, sec. 2266).
Encountering evil provokes us by giving us the opportunity to overcome our tendency to render shallow the unfathomably deep love of God given us in Christ. Passiontide, which refers to the last two weeks of Lent, is the time each year when should see God's love in the sacrificial suffering and emptying out of his Son for our sakes and for the sake of the whole world.
Like the older brother’s reaction to the party, we are often quick to condemn and slow to forgive. This tendency is natural enough. But we are given the Holy Spirit so that we can respond in a supernatural way. This what Paul means when he writes about our being entrusted by Christ with the ministry of reconciliation. God’s response to evil in the world is not punishment. Like the father in the parable, God’s response to sin is mercy.
In the Prayer for the Eleventh Station of the Cross, written for the Stations he commissioned for the 1993 renovation of The Cathedral of the Madeleine, Monsignor M. Francis Mannion, wrote:
Lord Jesus Christ, forgiving the repentant thief, look with love on every man and woman who is despised, rejected and counted as unworthy in humanIn order to relax and enjoy the party celebrating his brother’s return, the older son needed to become aware of his natural reaction and then push back against it, if not for the sake of his brother, then for the sake of his kind and merciful father. After hearing his oldest son’s complaint, the father told him: “everything I have is yours.” I like to imagine that after being reassured by his father, the older brother stopped brooding and joined the feast. Likewise, our loving God, whom we can call “our Father” only because of Jesus Christ, reassures us and beckons us to join the feast.
eyes. Forgive the sins of the world and the weaknesses of Adam’s children.
Bring to life everlasting all who have made the world a place of
misery. Let the power of your love be stronger than human failure and let
no one be without redemption (emboldening and italicized emphasis mine)