Father David's Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent
Who fed me when I was little? Who feeds me (earns my daily bread) now? Who first
nourished me with the Bread of Life, with the word of God? Who is feeding me with this bread, teaching me about God, now?
The Entrance Antiphon tells us that those who "rejoice with the Church" (the new Jerusalem) and love her will "find contentment at her consoling breasts." The Church is a nourishing mother. But we have to recognize her as such, be glad of what she offers, and seek the nourishment she offers. This is discipleship.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we declare to the Father that we are "joyful in your Word, your Son Jesus Christ," because we recognize that he "reconciles us to you." It is this recognition and this joy that make us "hasten to our Easter" - to the living presence of the risen Jesus in the Church today - "with the eagerness of faith and love." If we love what Jesus offers us in the Church and believe in it, we will seek it as disciples, as students eager to learn and be nourished by God's words.
What does Jesus offer us? He continues to "speak peace to a sinful world." As disciples we ask him to "teach us," so that "our faith, hope and love may turn hatred into love, conflict into peace, death into eternal life." In and through the Church Jesus continues to "bring to the human race the gift of reconciliation" which, once accomplished on the cross, is made present and available to all in every age and place in Eucharist.
In the Prayer over the Gifts we ask God to "increase our reverence by this Eucharist" - make us grow in awestruck appreciation of the mystery we celebrate - so that through us he might "bring salvation to the world."
If we who recognize the Church as our mother keep seeking nourishment "at her consoling breasts" and let God "fill our hearts with the light of the Gospel" (Prayer after Communion), he will be able through us to "enlighten all who come into the world." This is the fruit of discipleship. "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord."
Taste and see…
Joshua 5: 9-12 tells us how God nourished his people with bread from heaven - "manna" - in the desert. All they had to do was reach down every morning and pick it up. But once they crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, "The manna ceased. and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan." Now they had to feed themselves. The Responsorial Psalm urges us to do the same thing: "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord" (Psalm 34). If we want God to nourish us, we have to work at it. This is called discipleship: a commitment to study the words of God: to read, reflect and respond. If we want to experience "the goodness of the Lord," we have to "taste and see."1
So he left…
In Luke 15: 1-32 Jesus tells the story of a young man who grew up, as we did, fed by his family. As a child, all he had to do was show up at mealtimes. Presumably, this is the way most of us were nourished by the word of God as children. All we had to do was be there. Our parents taught us, took us to church or sent us to religion classes. It was ours for the absorbing.
And we may not have appreciated it, any more than the son in Jesus' story did. He took what he was given for granted. He left home looking for more, not realizing what he was giving up. It was not until he started to feel hunger and to "be in need" that he began to appreciate what his family had provided for him.
That is when he "came to himself" and said, "How many of my father's paid servants have more food than they want, and here I am dying of hunger!" That is when he came to his decision: "I will get up and go to my father."
"I will get up and go." That is a turning point in the spiritual life. There comes a point when we realize, even if we have never "left our father's house," that it takes some "get up and go" to continue living authentically as Christians - or even as human beings. We can't just sit around any longer being spoon-fed like children, passively absorbing what is said to us in church or by others. Even though we are being fed the true "bread from heaven," if all we have to do is reach down and pick it up, we won't appreciate it. The day has to come when we decide to feed ourselves. On the day we begin consciously and deliberately to "Taste and see the goodness of the Lord," we take true possession of the Promised Land. We begin to be disciples.
Made him to be sin…
The problem is, sometimes we "get up and go" in the wrong direction. If we grew up in the Promised Land without really taking personal possession of it, we may not appreciate what is there. So we get up and go elsewhere. We look for fulfillment - whether through truth or through pleasure - at the feet of other gurus or in the "world." We fulfill in ourselves the lament of Jeremiah:
My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.2
Sometimes this makes it more difficult for us to return. If, like the prodigal son we have "squandered" our spiritual heritage "in dissolute living," we may feel ashamed to go home. We may even be blocked from admitting that what we did and are doing is wrong, for fear of what this would say about us. Especially if we have been good all our lives, we may not know how to handle guilt. Unconsciously, we fear it will shatter us.
That is when we need to understand what Paul is saying in 2Corinthians 5: 17 when he says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them," he means much more than this. God does not just "forgive" our sins or "overlook" them, not "counting them against us." No, we say that Jesus is the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."
If we are just forgiven, we are not changed. God may have "changed his mind" about us, but we are just as guilty as we were before. It is just that God is not "counting our sins against us." But when God reconciled us to himself "in Christ," he took away our sins. They are no longer part of us or of our history. The mystery of our redemption, as Paul explains it, is that "if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has be- come new!" How can this be?
The answer is in one line: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Jesus on the cross was "made sin." He took into his body all the redeemed, from the beginning to the end of time, and all of our sins. Our sins became the sins of his own flesh. He "became sin" by incorporating us into his body by Baptism.
Then, when he died, we died in him, went down into the grave with him, and our sins were annihilated. When he rose, we rose in him. God returned us to earth as Christ's risen body, as a "new creation," without any past or record of sin.
When we repent of our sins, they are swallowed up in the waters of our Baptism. They become the sins of Christ's flesh and are annihilated in his death and resurrection. They are no longer part of our history. We who committed them died.
We have come back to life as a "new creation," with no history of sin. This is the mystery and wonder of our redemption.3 Because of it, we are not afraid to face or admit any guilt. Through Christ our sins are taken away.
Insight: Do I see the need to take an active, a proactive part in nourishing my- self with the word of God?
Initiative: Decide on a time to read Scripture for five minutes a day.
1 see Exodus, chapter 13 and Deuteronomy 8:3, which Jesus quoted in Matthew 4:4: "He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." 2Jeremiah 2:13. 3see Romans 6: 3-11; Colossians 2:11-14.