A Vertical Thread. The readings for Lent in each of the three liturgical years have a “vertical thread,” a unifying theme or topic that runs “up and down” over a series of consecutive weeks. The thread is not built into the First Sunday of Lent, the temptations of Jesus in the desert, and the Second Sunday of Lent, the Transfiguration, but emerges on the Third Sunday of Lent and continues until Passion Sunday. In Year C the thread is forgiveness.
Why Forgiveness? We are sinners. We have strayed from God and the commandments, been lost in the darkness, frivolous with our gifts, stuck in our ways, impatient and unkind, greedy and self-centered, angry and mean, impolite and impure, dishonest and unfaithful. Fallen and broken, we are in desperate need of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
The Third Sunday of Lent (Lk 13:1-9). The gospel is the parable of the unproductive fig tree. The tree represents each of us. Over time, because of our sins, we have done far fewer good deeds than we should have done; we have not borne much good fruit. The owner of the vineyard, God, is rightfully upset, and considering a severe punishment, the removal of the tree. But the gardener, Jesus, asks for mercy, that we be given a second chance, and he offers “cultivation and fertilization,” more grace and blessings, so we might be given another chance to bear good fruit. Jesus takes no delight whatsoever in punishment.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Lk 15:1-3,11-32). The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or better stated, the Parable of the Forgiving Father, is the premier forgiveness parable in the gospel of Luke. Like the young son, each of us has squandered our gifts from God. We have offended God, our Father, and no longer deserve to be considered God’s children. Yet, if we return home to God, God is waiting with open arms, and God will embrace us and welcome us back.
The Fifth Sunday of Lent (Jn 8:1-11). The gospel is the account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Adultery is a grave sexual sin, and in the Jewish faith it was a capital offense punishable by death by stoning. But Jesus in his mercy said, “Neither do I condemn you” (Jn 8:11). Again, Jesus was incredibly merciful. If we have committed sins against purity, Jesus would prefer to set punishment aside. All he wants is that from now on we would not commit these sins any more (see Jn 8:11).
Passion Sunday (Lk 22:14-23:49). When Jesus was condemned and crucified, he was grossly mistreated by the religious leaders and his execution squad, yet he said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34), and when the repentant criminal asked for mercy, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). In every case, Jesus had no desire to punish. His deepest desire was to forgive and reunify the person to God. May each of us rejoice in God’s gift of forgiveness, and conduct ourselves in a way that is pleasing to God.