First Reading: Joshua 5: 9, 10-12
The LORD said to Joshua, “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.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5: 17-21
Brothers and sisters: 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.
Gospel: Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, 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.’”
Extra late this week; sorry everyone.
Generally considered the most moving and exemplary description of God’s mercy, there seems to be little to add to the story of the Prodigal Son. Therefore, I’d like to focus on the other readings, particularly the first.
In particular, I find it interesting that at the same time God removes the “reproach of Egypt” from the Israelites, He also removes the mana with which He fed them. Specifically, it says He removed the mana because the Israelites “ate the fruit of the land.”
This is a simple, yet boldly meaningful passage with a number of meanings.
The first is that, contrary to what we might think, miraculous intervention is not necessarily a sign of Divine Favor. Rather, it might just as well be a kind of heavenly crutch which God allows us to use for a while until we’re ready to walk on our own. The mana was a sign of God’s great mercy and care for the Israelites, but it also was a sign of their stubbornness and lack of faith. If they had just gone into the Promised Land when they were supposed to instead of dithering and wandering about for forty years, they would have had no need of the mana during those years. Hence the linking of the removal of the mana with the removal of “the reproach of Egypt.”
To link this with the story of the prodigal son, oftentimes our clearest and most direct experiences of God occur when we’re “coming to our senses” after sinning. This particular divine intervention serves as a catalyst for our repentance, but we can’t and shouldn’t rely on maintaining the same level of ‘awareness’ to keep ourselves from sinning in the future.
Which brings me to the second aspect of the removal of mana; the fact that the Israelites now ate the fruit of the land, and so the mana was no longer needed.
I would imagine that many of the Israelites would much have preferred that the mana continued, thank you very much. It would have meant they didn’t have to fear famine or crop failures. It would have meant they didn’t have to work and slave away trying to keep themselves fed. And, I think, that’s precisely why it was removed; because the Israelites were supposed to slave away to keep themselves fed.
God, as we see time and again, much prefers to delegate tasks. This isn’t because He is lazy or because He can’t do things for Himself (obviously), but because He wants His creatures to participate in Creation. He gives temporary miraculous aid in order to get them to a point where they don’t need it anymore: to where they can eat the fruit of their own labor, rather than relying on their daily allotment of mana. By taking responsibility for their own lives, the people play an active role in their own creation.
This is not, of course, to say that God just sits back and lets the people stand or fall on their own merits. He’s still with them, helping them and sustaining them by His grace and power. But He provides a different kind of help now. He helps the people to help themselves, a little like how a father will hold his child up in order to help her learn to walk on her own, and then even when she does he follows her, watching to catch her when she falls. It’s the difference between supporting and carrying. God wants to support us, but is always willing to carry us when necessary. He does this because it’s what’s best for us, and because He loves us.
Vive Christus Rex!