The Sunday Project

Frazzling God’s Goodness

Fourth Sunday in Lent |

By Mx. Delfin W. Bautista, MSW, MDiv.
a mother and child looking out at crashing waves
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First Reading
Jos 5:9a, 10-12

The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.”

While the Israelites were encamped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they celebrated the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth of the month. On the day after the Passover, they ate of the produce of the land in the form of unleavened cakes and parched grain. On that same day after the Passover, on which they ate of the produce of the land, the manna ceased. No longer was there manna for the Israelites, who that year ate of the yield of the land of Canaan.

Second Reading
2 Cor 5:17-21

Brothers and sisters: Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

Gospel Reading
Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So to them Jesus addressed this parable: “A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend the swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’ So he got up and went back to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But his father ordered his servants, ‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fattened calf and slaughter it. Then let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found.’ Then the celebration began. Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”

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I will admit, I come to this week’s reflection a little frazzled due to many changes in my personal and professional life—some exciting, some confusing, some a little bit of both.   Within my frazzledness, I resonate with the possible feelings the Israelites may have experienced as the manna ceases as well as the feelings of being shafted within the older brother in Jesus’ parable.   I can relate to the OMG and WTF and other expletives both narratives inspire in me.  At the same time, like the people of Israel and in the words of Paul to the Corinthians, I hold onto hope and explore new ways to taste, see, savor, and experience the goodness of God.  

The parable in the Gospel sparked some memories from my youth ministry days in my parish back in Miami, FL in what feels like several lifetimes ago.   The Christian group, Phillips, Craig, and Dean, recorded the song/hymn “When God Ran,” a retelling of the story of the prodigal son with God in the place of the father.  I share the song in the spirit of sharing a little piece of my past; though I am very different person today from the zealous youth who wanted to bring the whole world to Jesus, I do not look at my past with shame but with pride.  Though I recognize that some of the teachings I followed and words I spouted were not the most theologically healthy, I honor the zeal and spunk of the younger me and continue to explore ways to refunnel the passion to create transformative spaces that widen the circle rather than impose limiting dynamics of identity and expression.   I hope you enjoy the song and find ways to live through the cringing when it comes to some of the things we all said and did in our pasts in order reconcile who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming as fierce ambassadors of God’s love for all of us as equally blessed.   

Now my reflection.  The readings this week are a powerful reminders of the need to trust the journey, bumps, bruises, bloopers and all.   How are our lives a living microphone for God’s presence in the world, even when things are a bit frazzling and overwhelming?  There are many questions for reflection with each reading, especially the Gospel parable of the prodigal son.   Where is the mother in the story?  Are we the younger son or the older son or perhaps a combination of both?  Jesus is speaking to sinners, tax collectors, pharisees, and scribes—which group do we belong to?  What prevents me and what helps me taste and see the goodness of God in my daily life?   As Spring begins, how do the readings spark and give birth to new creations and possibilities within us amidst uncertainty, confusion, and pain (in our lives and in the world)? 

There are many possibilities to wonder and wander through; to bring this ramble to a close, I choose to explore the witness of the father in Jesus’ parable.  As a person raised in a single-parent home, part of me celebrates this narrative of a single-parent doing their best to care, love, and support children whose personalities and experiences differ from each other.   Like my mother who assumed the many roles of parents as single-mom raising 4 kids, here we have a story of a parent who embodies and expresses fatherly maternal love and motherly paternal solidarity.  The father is a reminder that parenting takes on many different forms and structures and the need to dismantle binaries when it comes to who mothers and who fathers as these roles are not limited or specific to any one gender.   The father’s compassion is also a reminder that our advocacy is not about treating people equally; justice must be equitable recognizing that the starting points for those we are in solidarity with are different and that context matters.   The father affirms that both his sons are different and each requires a different “intervention.”  How do we recognize the uniquely similar yet different contexts of those we advocate with and for?   In our efforts to foster and cultivate energetic hope in others and in ourselves, how are we balancing equality with equity?   The father does not shame either son for their pasts and their presents, but embraces each one with fierce, bold, unconditional love and creates a space for both brothers to reconcile their pasts and their presents with their possible futures.   We don’t know if and how each son reconciled with their brother and how they individually and collectively reconciled with their father.   I don’t think that matters or what Jesus was intending.  The testimony of the parable for me is about how does our compassion embrace others in their messiness and plant seeds of hope that can one day blossom into new creations (creations we may never experience)—how are our lives claiming, reclaiming, and proclaiming the goodness of God and creating experiences for others to not only taste but fully and immersively savor God?