Thoughts of my dear mother, who passed away during the week, are filling my mind as I reflect on this Sunday’s readings. And the readings are particularly fitting, for they give us an inkling of what Heaven is like for those who seek the mercy of God.
The first reading tracks the Israelites, finally entering the Promised Land. They have been a stubborn lot, and it’s taken them years in the wilderness to get there. Not so different from our life journeys, maybe. As John Bergsma says, “the land of Canaan is a symbol and type of heaven, the new life in God’s presence.”
The manna in the wilderness is a type of the Eucharist, the bread from heaven which sustains us through our journey in the “desert” of this present life. Yet the Eucharist will not remain forever; when we enter into God’s presence in the life to come, the Eucharist will pass away as we feed on the direct vision of God. So, in today’s Reading, we see that the manna ceases when the people enter into the promised inheritance and begin to eat the fruit of the land itself. The sacrament passes away as the direct reality is experienced. It will be “a whole new world.”
The Gospel reading, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, shows us how much we will need to change our mindset to be fit for heaven – hence Purgatory, that final bit of ‘burning away the straw’ (1 Cor. 3:15) before joining the happy company of angels and saints. John Bergsma again:
On another level, this Parable shows us two ways of living: the “new world” or “new creation” of the Father (into which the younger son enters), and the “old world”/”old creation” of the older son.
The older son operates by a “tit for tat” or “quid pro quo” mentality, focused on earned material reward for one’s own self-centered enjoyment. He serves his Father because he expects to benefit from the service one day. He is not animated by love, either for his Father or for his brother. When the younger son returns, he is not “my brother,” but “this son of yours!”
The Father, on the other hand, operates in a whole new world. There is not some ledger book for accounting past rights and wrongs, so that each son gets exactly the punishment or reward that pertains precisely to his performance. The Father’s attitude is marked by love, by free sharing, and a desire for familial communion. The younger son insults him by demanding his inheritance while the Father is still alive, which is as much as saying, “To me, you are as good as dead.” He shames the family name by living a profligate lifestyle and ultimately descending into poverty and degradation, working for Gentiles (Jews did not raise pigs) feeding unclean animals (pigs.). All this is overlooked out of love, and the Father runs to meet the son (a breach of social custom) and hardly lets him recite his pre-planned speech before ordering the preparations of a feast.
The Father shows love to the older son, too, coming out of the feast to “plead” with him to come in and share the joy. He also does not withhold generosity from him: “son, all that I have is yours.” He does not make some mental or material division between his goods and those of his sons. They are family. They share a common home.
Living in the “new creation” of Christ means operating by the Father’s “logic” of love, forgiveness, and familial communion, both in our relationship to God and our relationships with others, both with those who seek reconciliation with us (the younger son) and with those who do not want reconciliation (the older son).
As long as we operate by a “quid pro quo” logic with God and with others, we are living in the old world. Because he wants us to live in the new world, Jesus commands us to pray daily, “forgive us our debts, as we ourselves have forgiven all our debtors.” Freely accepting forgiveness from God, and freely dispensing forgiveness to all around, is the lifestyle of the new creation.
How wonderful it will be to be part of God’s heavenly family. And that we can already start living in it now by giving and receiving forgiveness.
How beautiful it was to be able to pray the Divine Mercy prayer together with my mother before she died – and that she died in the Year of Mercy. How beautiful it was that my mother, though she was suffering, waited for me to arrive from Australia and spend time with her before she went to join the Lord. How beautiful it has been to experience so much kindness from our friends and relations during the last few days. How beautiful it was to hear the Nazareth House nurses singing to us on the night my mother died. How beautiful it has been to think about the joy we children shared through our childhood as a result of our dear mother’s faith. That’s a foretaste of heaven.
Word format: Year C Lent 4th Sunday 2016
Pdf format: Year C Lent 4th Sunday 2016