All three readings focus on the radical liberation God has brought to His people.
In the first reading, the Lord tells Joshua: “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” The Israelites are now in the Promised Land, free from the slavery of the Egyptians. They are now growing their own crops and feasting on the produce of the land. The age of the manna is over. They now have the dignity of serving the soil so that the soil serves them. The earth rewards them for their labor, and they have the dignity to benefit from their own labor. This new freedom gives them a sense of well-being they did not have for over four hundred years. God is so good!
The Responsorial Psalm celebrates the Israelites’ response to God’s goodness. “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord. …I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be ever in my mouth.”
The psalmist is asking the people to look to God and praise Him for His incredible goodness to His people. “Glorify the Lord with me, let us together extol his name.” What a joy it is when people have in common their gratitude for a God who loves them so much. The thing that unites them is God’s goodness to them. The dignity that God gives His people is worth so much more than the produce they are able to grow in the Promised Land. The real gift of the Promised Land is not agricultural acreage. It is living in union with a God who loves them and has so much more in store.
In the second reading, Paul is also talking about living in a promised land, and it is nothing other than the New Creation, which is ours in Christ. “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
We are a new creation because God “…has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Because of what we have received from Christ, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.”
Just how are you an ambassador for Christ? Let me use an example. If you have had terminal cancer, and you found a doctor that has totally cured you of this disease, would you keep that a secret or would you go to everyone you know and share this incredible news?
Christ, by His death on Calvary, has healed all of us of incurable spiritual leprosy. Why hide this unbelievable good news? Christ has helped each of us overcome habits of sin. Our struggling neighbors and friends need to hear of this. Christ needs us to witness to those people in our midst in whom He is laboring to achieve a similar victory.
This is how each of us is called to be an ambassador for Christ. He has brought us a measure of freedom, not to be hidden under a bushel basket but to be celebrated from the housetops. Sometimes those housetops are our faces reflecting the joy that comes from Jesus in our lives! Joy is Jesus’ neon light in a world of endless distractions.
In the gospel, “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus.” Jesus was like a neon light attracting not only sinners and alienated people but also the Pharisees and scribes who wanted to put out the neon light.
Jesus drew sinners because they were looking for an answer to the unhappiness they felt inside. The words of Jesus brought them hope and relief! They knew that they were sinners and their sins condemned them, until they listened to Jesus.
Notice the picture Jesus paints of the prodigal son. It was designed to blow apart the image which the Pharisees and scribes had of themselves.
The younger son asked for his inheritance and left his father, his father’s faith, and spent his money on a “life of dissipation.” When the money ran out, he hired himself out to a gentile who put him in charge of feeding swine. This was totally forbidden by Jewish law. He even longed to eat of the husks he gave to the pigs, which would have further lowered him in the eyes of the Jews (and especially the audience of the scribes and Pharisees).
Coming to realize he was living a life lower than the swine that he feeds, he decided to return to his father and offer his services as a hired hand.
To his utter amazement, his father would have none of his self-abasement. His father welcomed him home, put a robe on him, put a ring on his finger, killed the fatted calf, and had a banquet to welcome him home.
I can just read the mind of the Pharisees: “This guy Jesus has to be out of his mind! He has altogether lost his senses! He is crazy!”
Meanwhile, the sinners and tax collectors have just been treated to the feast of their lives! This is everything they have ever desired: forgiveness for their sins and acceptance by God! That is the best that life has to offer.
You and I are those tax collectors and sinners! Are we rejoicing with them, or are we like the elder son, priding ourselves on our own holiness and fidelity?
It is a lot more freeing to say: “I am sorry!” than to say: “I didn’t do it!”
This lent God wants to see on our faces the joy of repentance! The gift of repentance is truly a great gift, and when we sincerely ask for it, God is helpless in refusing it! Show a joyous face to the world by asking Jesus for the gift of repentance.