By Sister Janet M. Peterworth, OSU
Fourth Sunday of Lent
“Could we start again, please?” You may recognize this line as a title of a song in the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Mary Magdalene and Peter want to start over with Jesus and His mission. They were both having second thoughts. It had gone too far for them. They were not sure anymore. I suggest that the title from this song could be the takeaway line of this Sunday’s scriptures. “Could we start again, please?”
We read in our first reading that the Hebrews now had a new leader in Joshua. Because none of the men and boys of Israel who had been born during the time of the Exodus from Egypt were circumcised, that ceremony had to be done again before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land. They were true Hebrews now. Their reproach had been removed. After 40 years—give or take a few—they had crossed the Jordan River and were getting ready to settle in the land of milk and honey. The Hebrews are now asking, “Could we start again, please?” Could we start being our own people, our own nation?” “Could we be free of Egypt and desert living and manna and now eat of the produce of the land?” Are they saying to each other and to their God, “Could we start again, please?”
And then there is Paul who says, “We are all new when we start again with God through Christ who has reconciled us to God.” And there we stand asking, “Could we start again, please?” And if we ask God if we can start again, how must we become ambassadors who go among others asking—when things don’t seem to be going so well— “Could we start again, please?”
And can’t you hear all three characters in the Luke’s gospel say, “Could we start again, please?” There is the youngest child (who was a snarky kid) asking for an inheritance even before the parent was dead. That young adult child comes back—an absolute wreck—asking tentatively, “Could we start again, please?” And, then there is the older child, full of resentment, manifesting sibling rivalry at its best, pleading in a hidden way, “Could we start again, please? and maybe this time with some recognition for me…a party maybe?”
And the parent pleading with both adult children, “Could we start again, please?” I didn’t know that I was taking on ‘the hardest, most complicated, anxiety-ridden, sweat-and-blood-producing job in the world.’” (Virginia Satire, Peoplemaking, 1972) “I just did not know.” And so, it is the parent who asks, “Kids, could we start again, please?”
“Could we start again, please.” I have said those words many times in my life. I have said them in my family life, my professional life and certainly in my 67 years in community life. How about you? Have you said them to a family member, a child? a life’s partner? To a business colleague?
And don’t we want to say those words now to our Mother Earth whom we are destroying? To capitalism and an economic system gone awry? To those who were captured into slavery those many years ago? To our indigenous siblings whose culture we wrecked? “Could we start again, please?”
And is that what Pope Francis is saying when he speaks of a synodal church? “Could we start again, please?” Could we all reexamine the call of Vatican II? Could we all take special care to involve those persons who may risk being excluded: women, the handicapped, refugees, migrants, the elderly, people who live in poverty, Catholics who rarely or never practice their faith, LGBTQ people, divorced and remarried Catholics, abused persons? Is the institutional Church saying to those excluded, “Could we start again, please?
And so, what do you think? Could we start again? I am reminded of the responsorial psalm we sang on Ash Wednesday. The psalmist said, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.” And we sang that mournful refrain “Be merciful, O God, for we have sinned.” In other words, O God, “Could we start again, please?”
The LORD said to Joshua,Jos 5:9a, 10-12
“Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”
While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho,
they celebrated the Passover
on the evening of the fourteenth of the month.
On the day after the Passover,
they ate of the produce of the land
in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain.
On that same day after the Passover,
on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased.
No longer was there manna for the Israelites,
who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.
Brothers and sisters:2 Cor 5:17-21
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 us to himself through Christ
and given us the ministry of reconciliation,
namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ,
not counting their trespasses against them
and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
So we are ambassadors for Christ,
as if God were appealing through us.
We implore you on behalf of Christ,
be reconciled 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.
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”