Fourth Sunday in Lent
Joshua 5, Luke 15

Lectionary text for the Fourth Sunday in Lent:

Joshua 5:9-12: “The LORD said to Joshua, ‘Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.’ And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

10 While the Israelites were encamped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. 11On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. 12The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32: “Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’

3 So he told them this parable…Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 31Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”

COMMENT: The word Gilgal captured my attention. The word gilgal means rolling and wheel and cycle. It is a word saturated with spiritual symbolism. Gilgal is the name given to the place where Jehovah declared, I rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt,” Joshua 5: 9. Commentaries interpret the disgrace to mean the neglect of the practice of circumcision in Egypt and in the wilderness. Joshua reinstitutes circumcision, the covenant sign of Jehovah’s people. Gilgal also is means wheel and is found in Ezekiel’s visions of wheels in Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10.

Gilgal, as meaning ‘cycle’, draws my attention the most. We read in Genesis 12: 1-7 that God promised Abram that he would have many descendants and the land where he was standing. Abram built an altar to mark the place where God met him. Approximately 500 years later, Joshua lead the Israelites, Abraham’s family, to this same place to claim the land God promised. Joshua marked Gilgal with 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. God’s people had come full circle. The cycle of God creating and forming a people was completed.

Luke chapter 15 narrates Jesus confronting the thinking of the Pharisees and scribes about his associations with the socially undesirable. Jesus uses three parables to convey the he Jesus, is God of the ‘Lost and Found’.

Luke 15:11-31 tells the story of a son who demanded his inheritance, before his father’s death. The father gives the young man his inheritance; he squanders it and is left desolate and alone. However, at his lowest point the son “came to himself” and decides to go back to his father and plead for forgiveness and restoration. As the son nears home, his father sees him approaching. The wording of the text paints the picture in my mind of the father keeping vigil, anticipating the return of his son. The place where the father stood became Abram’s altar, the place of prayer that God would return to him his wayward son. The father stood like Joshua’s 12 stones, knowing the day would come when he would tell his son, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Psalm 32:1

As for the son, he came full circle starting in the ‘lostness’ of self-absorption; he found himself in the arms of his father. And there in his father’s embrace, his father greeted him and restored him and with a holy kiss sealed him, with God’s forgiving eternal love.

Oh God, we pray during this Lenten season that you roll away any obstacles that hinder our knowing and living, “That anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-19, Peterson’s, The Message AMEN

Rev. Julia
©March 10, 2010

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