Today’s Gospel is one of the most loved parables of our Lord–the parable of the Prodigal Son. Very often our attention is focused on the younger son, the prodigal. Remember: “prodigal” means “wasteful”, “lavish”. That’s what we see with the younger son. It wasn’t bad enough that he wished his father dead–wanting now already the inheritance. But instead of wisely investing the inheritance, he is wasteful with it: He gathered together all that he had and traveled to a distant country. There he wasted his wealth with wild living. Of course, we see at the end, the father waiting for his son to return and, losing/ not caring about any dignity because of his great joy: He was filled with compassion. Heran, hugged his son, and kissed him. So great was his joy that his wayward son had returned!
Of course, why was it that the son could return? What prompted him to return? Of course it was his dire predicament and shame. It drove him to recognize his true condition: Not only was he in need but he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed his pigs. He would have liked to fill his stomach with the carob pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. But there was something more than his dire predicament that drove him to return home to his father–it was his father. He knew his father to be gracious and merciful. That’s why he could return home to him!
Here, in this Lenten season with its particular emphasis on confession, we experience the same thing in our lives. The only reason we can repent and go return to the Lord in repentance is because we by faith know Him to be gracious and merciful. If we only knew God as the holy and righteous God who must punish us for our sin, wouldn’t we rather run from Him rather than to Him? But we know Him as our dear, loving, merciful Father who forgives us our sins in Christ; who sent His Son to be our Savior from sin, death and damnation so we can confess our sin and receive forgiveness, like the younger son in the parable: Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.
But we miss the point of why Jesus told the parable if we stop with the father’s joy and celebration: Bring out the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let us eat and celebrate, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found. The background of why Jesus told this parable comes at the very beginning of the Gospel: All the tax collectors and sinners were coming to Jesus to hear Him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In this parable doesn’t Jesus not only show the mercy of God toward sinners, but doesn’t He also call to repentance those who, like the older brother and like the Pharisees and experts in the law, look down on those “sinners” repenting and coming to faith as somehow being unworthy and unacceptable to God? Doesn’t Jesus here call to repentance the self righteous who are really judging God and condemning Him for His mercy? God’s mercy and grace, after all, are terribly offensive to the self-righteous. May we this Lent, especially, examine our own hearts and lives to seek and root out any self-righteousness we may find in our own lives and repent of it, lest we in the end are like the older brother, the scribes and Pharisees rejecting God’s grace.
Our OT reading/ text from Joshua, too, is all about God’s grace. It comes at the time after the Lord, by Joshua, had led the Israelites into the Promised Land after their 40 years of desert wanderings. Here is a great grace of God. Not only did He bring them to the land He had promised to give to Abraham and his descendants centuries before, but in grace upon grace He brought them there in spite of all their rebellions and rejections and turning away from Him during those 40 years. During those forty years, the Lord had shown them nothing but His grace and mercy. Yes, there were times He had to discipline them–like He also must do with us–it was all to drive them to recognize their sin and to turn from it. –Just like how Jesus describes it in the parable when the younger son’s world came crashing down on him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. But isn’t our Lord’s discipline of us, too, a great grace as it calls us back to Him? Certainly!
And now in our text from Joshua, we find the Israelites, by God’s grace, in the Promised Land and celebrating that great feast of rescue and deliverance–the Passover. What are the first words of our text? Then the LOrd said to Joshua, “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” Notice–Who did the work? It was God! He rolled away the reproach/ the disgrace from the people. Now there was no way anyone could now discredit the Israelites. One way that the Egyptians would have shown contempt and disgrace on the Israelites is if they had all died in the wilderness. Like Moses once said to the Lord [Ex 32.12], Why should the Egyptians speak and say, ‘[God] brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Here as the people were now in the Promised Land neither the Egyptians nor anyone else could say God had rejected them or that God was not faithful to His promises. Instead, as we read earlier in the chapter [5.1]: the people of the land of Canaan, their heart melted; and there was no spirit in them any longer because of the children of Israel. They heard that the Israelites had miraculously crossed the Jordan River, the Lord drying up the water before them–like how they crossed the Red Sea leaving Egypt, God parting the waters and the people walking across on dry ground. Now, instead of reproach/ disgrace, being heaped on the Israelites, they caused fear among the people of the land.
And besides that, the Lord had rolled away the reproach of Egypt in another sense. During those 40 years, the Lord was preparing the people to be His special covenant people. He separated them from the nations around them–from Egypt– and gave them His holy Law, including the Ten Commandments. And so He rolled away the reproach of Egypt in the sense that the reproach/ disgrace of an unholy life of sinful pleasures the Egyptians lived in and its influence it had on the Israelites as they disobeyed the Lord, He rolled it away. He was leading them into a life of holiness/ separateness; He was ultimately preparing them to be a holy nation, a people longing for and ready to welcome the Savior when He came.
We can see also in us, the Lord doing the same thing. We are sinners living in a world of sin. But by His calls to us to repent, by His preaching of His holy law to us, by His disciplining and correcting us, and by giving us His Holy Spirit the Lord is leading us into a life of holiness; He is rolling away from us the reproach of sin and the disgrace that comes from a life of sin. And in grace upon grace, when we recognize and confess our sin saying like the younger son in Jesus’ parable, Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, we receive the forgiveness of our sin. Our sin/ our reproach God takes away from us and instead, He gives us the holiness and perfect righteousness of Jesus. Before God, we dear Christian, are forgiven our sin and cleansed from all unrighteousness/ every reproach. That’s why Lent is such a blessed season; its call to repent sounds in our ear and as we hear it and examine our heart and conscience in the light of the holy 10 Commandments and so repent of our sin, God forgives us our sin; in faith we receive the holy Absolution/ forgiveness as once again and anew God says to us: “This day I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.”
And what do we read next in our text? So the Children of Israel camped in Gilgal, and kept the Passover on the 14th day of the month at twilight on the plains of Jericho. They ate the Passover. This was the first Passover they celebrated since the first year after they left Egypt. All during the years of desert wanderings the Passover was not celebrated, but now as they are freshly in the Promised Land they celebrate anew. Now there is no doubt that fellowship between God and His people is restored. Here the people were reminded again of their rescue from slavery in Egypt and God’s miraculous dealing with them. How greatly this must have strengthened and comforted them for their task ahead in settling the Promised Land and driving out its inhabitants! And looking back over and reflecting on those 40 years, certainly they saw the Lord’s mighty hand leading and guiding them. Certainly they now saw the good He desired and worked through the disciplines and corrections.
Our text: And they ate of the produce of the land on the day after the Passover, unleavened bread and parched grain, on the very same day. Now the manna ceased on the day after they had eaten the produce of the land; and the Children of Israel no longer had manna, but they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year. They were there! God had fulfilled His promise. The unleavened bread was made with grain that had come from the Promised Land. There is no hint of sadness–there is only joy! They no longer had the manna. It was God’s gift for the journey but now they were where God had promised them. Where there’s no manna, neither is there a journey any longer. And then there is another foreshadowing of God’s grace: they ate the food of the land of Canaan that year. What a beautiful picture of grace: they ate what they did not work for. And that’s what grace is–God giving us what we do not deserve.
This account is a beautiful picture of how good and blessed our lives are as Christians for now we enjoy God’s forgiveness, reconciliation and grace.
Like the Israelites that day enjoying the Passover in the Promised Land, they were at peace and reconciled to God; they were enjoying every grace and blessing from the Lord. That is a beautiful picture of us, dear Christian! We are, in Christ, forgiven our sin and reconciled to God; we are in the Promised Land, that is, in His holy Church. We are His holy people. We have crossed our Red Sea and the Jordan River in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. But yet, like it was for the Israelites that day, it was only the beginning. They were in the land but they had to conquer and settle it. For us, too, once we are baptized, it is really just the beginning. We dare never forget that although we have and enjoy every divine gift and blessing a battle awaits us. We catch a glimpse of that in our text in a seemingly incidental detail: on the plains of Jericho. There was a reminder that even as the Israelites were eating the Passover, enjoying the greatest gifts and graces of God, the enemies were nearby. The natives of the land did not want these “invaders” to come and take their land; it was a reminder that there were many battles ahead for them, like for the city of Jericho. The same applies to us. Although we are Christians and through faith recipients of all our Lord’s graces and gifts we still face many battles of faith. The devil and his allies will not leave us be, but will attack and try to rob us of and destroy our faith. We will even have to fight against ourselves, our old sinful nature. We will have to kill it by daily contrition and repentance.
But in this we are not alone. Remember the Israelites–they had the Passover. It was more than just food for the body but it was food for thought and for spiritual nourishment. But we, dear Christian, have something even better–we have the One that the Passover points forward to: Jesus and His holy Sacrament of His body and blood. In this holy Sacrament, Jesus not only gives us the forgiveness of sins and strengthens our faith but He gives us Himself, unites with us, comes to us. Here is our strength for the fight for the faith and against sin. INJ Amen.