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4th Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2013 (Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32) Sunday‟s reading from Joshua followed

a mass circumcision for all the Israelite men who had been part of the desert-dwelling generations who had been born after the exodus. Because the circumcision had been required of all males as a sign of the covenant with the Lord God (Genesis 17:9-14), it was necessary for those who had come through the exodus to do likewise. The covenant that the Lord had made with Noah had the rainbow as the sign. Obviously, the covenant with Abraham was a bit more dramatic, requiring the circumcision of all males. Joshua now requires compliance with the covenant originally made with Abraham, because Israel has returned from Egypt and has re-entered the Promised Land, where Abraham had once dwelt. The “reproach of Egypt” to which Joshua refers is the lack of circumcision, which was supposed to be the sign of the covenant. The Hebrew has an interesting play on words here which is captured in this translation, (from “The Jewish Study Bible,” by the Jewish Publication Society, published in 2004): “And the Lord said to Joshua: „Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.‟ So that place was called Gilgal….” Gilgal, in Hebrew means “a circle.” The Hebrew verb, galal means “to roll away,” so when the author of Joshua put all this together with the idea of circumcision, the pun is plain to see. Appropriately enough, they arrive in the Promised Land on the Passover, just as they had left Egypt on the Passover. The manna ceased that day because from now on they could eat the produce of the land into which they had entered. The covenant had come full circle, as it were, and the Israelites began to take possession of the land (which had been promised to Abram; see the first reading for Second Sunday of Lent).

The link with the Gospel probably has to do with the idea of “removing the reproach of Egypt.” However, as we have seen above, the reproach of Egypt probably had to do with the lack of circumcision, which the Lord had rolled away from the Israelites in the “mass circumcision” ritual. We have to suppose that the Father‟s forgiveness of the wayward son (thus, removing his “reproach”) is what the Lectionary editors had in mind. It is not, by any means, a perfect fit. Most call this parable that of “the Prodigal Son.” Often lost is the idea of the “forgiving Father,” who waits patiently and constantly for the return of his wayward son. When he sees him “while he was still a long way off,” the father “ran” to his son, embraced him, kissed him, and orders him restored to his place in the family. We often hear of families disrupted by rambunctious children who flee from the family. Not as often do we hear of such reconciliation. Perhaps that is why this is a parable. What Jesus teaches here has to do with the nature of God, whom Jesus constantly reveals as a loving (and forgiving) Father, who remains anxious for us to return from our wayward ways. It is a powerful invitation to us to repent of our sins and return to the Father, whose love for us knows no bounds. What makes the story so powerful, however, is the older son, who remains angry at his brother for tearing the family apart. Whereas the younger son repented and asked for mercy, the older son slaved for the father “all these years….not once did I disobey your orders…” He never knew what it meant to be a son to his father. He never could. Fr. Lawrence Hummer