Monday, February 29, 2016

The Elder Brother – 6 March 2016 – Fourth Sunday in Lent

[T]he season of Lent follows a tension found in St. Augustine of Hippo. Just as Augustine described the trajectory toward salvation as a personal journey in his autobiography, The Confessions, so too did he envision it in The City of God as an historical movement toward the eschaton. In Lent the lectionary exhibits this same pattern. Salvation is personal for baptizands, as they move through the preparation of Lent toward the paradigmatic celebration of baptism at the Easter Vigil.

Simultaneously, however, the readings from the Old Testament chosen for Lent every year move us from Israel's origins on the first Sunday in Lent to its hope for new life on the last. The Old Testament themes used for the sundays in Lent in all years are (1) Origins, (2) Abraham, (3) the Exodus, (4) the Nation, and (5) the Promise. – Fritz West

Today, the Fourth Sunday, we are given to ponder forgiveness in the feast that comes with reconciliation.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The parable from Luke lays out reconciliation in all the complexity of family life. Its traditional title, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” focuses only on a part of the whole. Better is the cumbersome title, “The Prodigal Son, the Waiting Father, and the Angry Brother,” for both of the brothers distanced themselves from the father and the family, the younger son in willful prodigality and the elder son in resentful duty.

The younger son breaks family solidarity, both by demanding his inheritance and by dissolute living. Though to all appearances dutiful, the elder brother sets himself outside of the family circle through anger toward his father and resentment toward his brother.

Despite all this, the father shows patience and initiative, on the one hand waiting for the younger son, on the other hand approaching the elder (vv 20, 28b). The prodigal son, in bewildered amazement, joins the celebration that his father throws for him. However, we are left at the end of the parable at the side of the father—waiting, hoping, praying for the return of the elder son. Will he join the festivities or not? That is the question. – Fritz West

And while we wait for that answer, we may well look in the mirror to see the elder brother in our own images, not sure which way to turn when the Great Provider, the One who has the fatted calf killed for us, shows us unearned mercy. We may cluck at the squandering brother, but we might also consider a squandering on the part of the elder brother who stays home, safe, and doesn’t take chances.

For both of them––for the adventurer who loses his way and for the careful obeyer who abides in the family compound––the prodigal father lavishes his generosity, confounded that either of them would be unaware of his open arms.

Reconciliation comes from the Bread Provider, the LORD.

Joshua 5:9-12
On the historical stage, the book of Joshua tells of the reconciliation of the people of Israel with their God, which calls closure to the desert wandering and opens up a future life in the land of promise. The forty years in the desert consolidated Israel as a people; there they experienced the Exodus, received the Law, and established patterns for religious life. The backdrop for this reading, however, is Israel's disgrace in Egypt and disobedience in the desert, which necessitated Israel's reconciliation with Yahweh. The way was opened by Yahweh, Godself. God brought them into the promised land, a foretaste of the ultimate salvation, here ritually anticipated in the Passover meal.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

The epistle reading also sets personal salvation in a wider eschatological context. For while we experience our reconciliation in Christ personally, Paul describes it cosmologically as “a new creation.” Once again we touch on the baptismal theme. As creation was brought forth from the waters of the deep, we participate in the new creation through the waters of baptism. – Fritz West

Reconciliation is embued in the waters of baptism.

Fritz West, a liturgical author and retired pastor of the United Church of Christ, lives in Marine on the St. Croix, Minnesota, and serves as the Presiding Member of the Association for Reformed & Liturgical Worship Steering Committee and a board member of The Liturgical Conference.

Homily Service 40, no. 4 (2007): 23-32.

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