Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

by Linda Herndon, OSB
March 9, 2013 

 Readings: Hosea 11:1-9; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Laetare, O Jerusalem! Rejoice!  

 Our readings for this Laetare Sunday here in the middle of Lent are all about rejoicing.  They present us with some of the most incredible reasons to rejoice and they vividly demonstrate the consequences of failing to rejoice.

Both readings this evening are filled with tender images of our God who cares deeply for us. The prophet Hosea describes God in maternal images as one who loves us as tenderly as a parent loves a child, teaching him to walk, carrying him in her arms, lifting him to her cheek, bending down to feed him. Carroll Stuhlmueller says, “If ever there was an Old Testament discourse wrapping God in the warm flesh of human parenthood, this is it—the supreme revelation of divine love.”  (Collegeville Bible Commentary: Amos, Hosea, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, p. 54) These images are vivid and comforting for indeed great can be our rejoicing that God loves us so deeply!

The story of the prodigal in Luke’s gospel, too, provides us with more reasons to rejoice. We hear of a father who loves his younger son so much that he breaks with all customs and rules to give him his share of the property that should be his only upon the father’s death. This father loves this son so deeply that he runs to greet him while the son is still far off and then he throws a feast for him even though he comes home empty-handed and starving. What incredible examples of extravagant love!

These are reasons to rejoice, but what are the consequences if we fail to live rejoicing in God’s great love for us?  Hosea tells us that people who turn away from God do not live in freedom. These people who do not listen to God live in slavery like they did when they were in Egypt. War and destruction is their reality like it was for the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah.  

Luke presents us with two different scenarios for those who fail to rejoice. One possibility is to be like the younger son who is not content with what he had.  His request for his inheritance “right now” is the same as wishing for his father’s death.  And if that is not bad enough, he wastes this inheritance and has nothing to show for it except hunger and, as a Jew, a demeaning job feeding pigs. He is so caught up in his sinfulness that he can no longer see himself as a son but rather only as a hired hand.

Another possible consequence of not living with grateful and rejoicing hearts is to be like the elder son. He imagines himself as no better than a slave, as unappreciated and unloved by his father.  His resentment and jealousy are so great that he is not able to rejoice with his father that his brother has come home. He cannot ever go inside his own home and share in the feast.  

So why are we presented with these readings now in the middle of Lent? Why talk about rejoicing in the midst of this penitential season? I think these readings are to remind us not to make the mistake of failing to rejoice these days. It can seem that it is still a long time until Easter. It is easy to get discouraged and wonder what difference our personal and communal Lenten observances make. With rejoicing and grateful hearts, may we continue on this Lenten journey knowing that God loves us with a love that is tender, outrageous, and extravagant beyond anything we can imagine. And soon we will witness the fullness of this love in the Triduum!