Lent 4

Josh. 5:9-12 • Ps. 32 • 2 Cor. 5:16-21 • Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The first time manna falls from heaven it is greeted with a question: “What is it?” (Ex. 16:15). This fine flaky substance on the surface of the wilderness evokes curiosity, not awe or wonderment. A miracle need not look miraculous. The morning dew ascends, and there it is. “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat,” Moses tells the people. Every morning the bread is new as every morning the day is new.

When their migration in the wilderness ends, God feeds his people in another way, no less miraculous. “They ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain” (Josh. 5:11). God feeds precisely as we have need, manna for moving and the produce of the land for staying. “He who comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Sometimes, however, we still look at things from a human point of view (2 Cor. 5:16). We look at the day and the morning clouds and the kitchen sink and ask with a heavy boredom, “What is it?” So we must hear again and again and again, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” The day is a delight to an enlightened eye.

Sometimes God adds to the meal music and dancing. Indeed, God does this at a most peculiar time. God fills the hall with festivity when we are expecting a rebuke, when we are rehearsing a scripted confession, when we are reviewing our misery and failure and sin. God goes for robes and rings and a fatted calf because we have returned from a distant country. Such is divine love given, a full embrace and a heartfelt kiss. You were lost and now you are found. This is hardly good news, however, if you regard yourself as right and correct and faithful, and spy the Lord lavishing your wayward brother with royal gifts, fine food, music, and dancing. Thinking about “this son of yours,” the righteous brother is seething in a sea of his own rage. How hard it is for the angry to enter the kingdom of dance and song and the bread of heaven.

As God gives just the right food, strikes the perfect chord of song, invokes a whirling dance, everything becomes new. A new creation is if anyone is in Christ, for Christ is ever new. The old has passed away like leftover manna seared in the sun. Every day is a task called “the ministry of reconciliation,” the re-announcement of the new thing God has done in Christ. It has happened: “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.” And yet it must be repeated as an imperative breaking into each and every moment. “Be reconciled to God.” The imperative is a call to reality, a summons to the human condition as already reconciled to God, which, often enough, we fail to see because we adopt a “human point of view.”

Speaking of food and festivities, we are speaking of the new creation, and the new creation is grounded in love. What does this mean? “Love itself renews us so that we become new human beings, heirs of a new testament, singers of a new song. … It makes and gathers a new people” (Augustine on John’s Gospel, Tract. 65, 1-3).

Put all this together, and what do we have? I believe in God the beautiful, giver of good food, dispenser of rings, robes, and the royal calf, calling us from a distant country or, as it may be, calling us out of our anger into unfolding newness.

Look It Up
Read 2 Cor. 5:16. Now start your day.

Think About It
Reconciled to God is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived.”

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