The fourth Sunday of Lent is known as Laetare Sunday. This name comes from the entrance antiphon, in which we are told to rejoice, Laetare. Our readings have the same theme of rejoicing, and they also help us to understand the reason for our rejoicing. I think the key is in our second reading. It is St Paul’s claim that we have become a new creation in Christ. What could this mean? How do we become a new creation in Christ?
In Paul, there is a distinction between two types of living. Generally, he calls these two types of living the old Adam and the new Adam; Adam being the Hebrew word for humanity. The old Adam we read about in Genesis. This is when I see life in terms of myself. Life is about me. I want so I take. Life is about possession.
On the other hand, the new Adam is Christ. For Christ, life is about love of God and love of neighbour. Life is not about possession. It is a gift: to be received and given. The new creation then is when we pass over from the old life to the new life, switch our perspective from that of the old Adam to that of the new Adam.
But how does such a change occur? The gospel gives us a clue. We may be seeing such a change occurring in the prodigal son.
Now, it is worth spending time and praying with the parable of the prodigal son, worth considering the younger son’s motives. At the beginning of the story, his father is basically dead to him. He sees his dad not as a person but as a wallet, only good for cash. (I am sure such description of a parent-child relationship is completely unknown to our congregation today!) He partially remembers his dad once he begins to starve. But he does not remember him totally. When he comes back, he is still thinking in terms of his stomach. The younger son doesn’t think he himself deserves sonship, but he reckons he probably deserves to be treated like a slave. He is still thinking about just des(s)erts, so to speak, about possessions. Basically, he is still thinking about himself.
But I wonder whether everything changes once he sees his father close-up. Imagine being the prodigal son. I am sure every child knows this experience, as we trudge downstairs to see mum or dad, trying to work out what to say to minimise the punishment. We’re running scenarios in our head. If I say this, maybe I’ll get that. If I say I am happy to be a servant, what’s going to happen? What kind of servant would I be? What’s the punishment going to be? We’re kind of sorry, but really more concerned about what’s going to happen next. Really, we are still thinking about ourselves, and so we begin our rehearsed speech.
But then our father cuts us off before we get half way through. As he begins to speak, we look up and we see his eyes. We see how he sees us. And we forget everything we were going to say. We forget ourselves. All we can see is him and how he sees us. And we start to cry. This is baptism. These tears are the waters of new life. This is passing over from death to life. This is the experience of becoming a new creation. The love of the Father recreates us as children.
This is what happens when we look at the Cross. We see how Christ judges us. It is a judgment full of love and mercy. We see ourselves in his eyes, and he sees us as worth dying for. Suddenly, we see all our petty calculations for the waste of time that they are. Once we accept his vision of ourselves, everything else falls away. We are created anew.
More than that, when we see how much Jesus loves the whole of creation, the whole world is made new. We begin to see everyone in the same way. We not only feel impelled to proclaim this new love, we not only begin to see others in and through this same love, but the only way truly to respond to such a revelation is to celebrate. To thank God for this unheard of gift. To glory in the wonder of our brothers and sisters, whom we are seeing properly for first time.
We then become the ambassadors of reconciliation that St Paul talks about in our second reading. People should encounter that same look of love in our eyes. They should now feel part of the kingdom of God. They should feel newly created in our presence, through the way we treat them.
This is why we have Lent. All the little nos of Lent are nos to the old Adam. They are nos so that we can say a big yes to the new Adam. So that we can better experience God’s love in our lives. So that we can become that yes, and become it for other people.
So, in today’s Mass, let us thank God once again for Christ, for our baptism into his life. And let us renew our dedication to proclaiming this new life in the love that we show our neighbours.