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Forgiveness, the Major Point of Emphasis in Lent

March 22, 2019

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Prodigal son

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 all sinners. We have strayed from God and the commandments, been lost in the darkness, frivolous with our gifts, stuck in our evil 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 (Luke 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 produced far fewer good fruits than we should have. Our good deeds are sadly lacking. The owner of the orchard, 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 to cultivate and fertilize, to provide more grace and blessings, so we might be given another opportunity to bear good fruit. Jesus takes no delight whatsoever in punishment.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Luke 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, we have strayed from God and squandered our gifts. We have so grievously offended God, our Father, that we no longer deserve to be called God’s children. Yet, if we return home, God is waiting with open arms, will embrace us and welcome us back.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 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 kind and merciful. If we have committed sins against purity, or any other sins, Jesus takes no delight in punishment. His desire is that we would go forth and not sin any more (see Jn 8:11).

Passion Sunday (Luke 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 boundless compassion and promise of mercy and forgiveness, approach Jesus for pardon and absolution, and conduct ourselves in ways that are pleasing to God.

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