Lectionary Commentaries for March 27, 2022
Fourth Sunday in Lent

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Niveen Sarras

The parable of the two sons and their loving father appears only in the Gospel of  Luke and is one of three parables, including the lost sheep (Luke 15: 3-7) and the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) that talk about repentance. The most common understanding of these three parables refers to unbelievers, where God searches for and welcomes them. Christians have understood the parable of the two sons as referring to two groups: the lost son represents the Gentiles who believe in Christ, and the elder son represents the Jews who rejected Jesus. 

My interpretation focuses on the shame-honor culture as the context of Jesus and my experience as a Palestinian Christian, born and raised in Bethlehem, Palestine. Shame-honor culture is dominant in modern Palestine as it was dominant in first-century Palestine. I will demonstrate that the main point in the parable is God’s prodigal love. 

Jesus begins his parable with the younger son asking his father for an advance on his inheritance. In Jesus’ shame-honor culture and mine, asking a living parent for an early inheritance is rude. N. T. Wright explains that “asking for his share before the father’s death; it was the equivalent of saying ‘I wish you were dead.'”1 Children who make such a request lose their respect and honor, and their community ostracizes them. The parent’s response to their children’s request is usually a wave of great anger. I encountered a few cases when parents and children cut all ties with each other because of such an insulting request. 

Contrary to all expectations, the loving father agrees to divide the property between his two sons. I believe that Jesus’ audience was shocked by the father’s and his younger son’s actions. No one should do such a thing. It takes the younger son a few days to gather everything he inherited and travel to a foreign country. It seems he wants to cut all familial ties.

The younger son wastes his money in dissolute living, and when famine hits the country, he becomes hungry and hires himself out to one of the citizens to feed pigs. The younger son shames his father by reducing his status from a son of a large landowner to an unclean man feeding pigs. He becomes miserable. The young man “came to himself,” which means that he came to his senses and eventually repented. He, as Joel B. Green states, recognizes “his loss of status, the deteriorating social condition that developed from [his] series of actions.”2

Returning home as a failure, a person is not well received in shame-honor cultures. In Jesus’ culture and mine, one would travel to a different country to work hard and succeed. If one returns home unsuccessful, he/she embarrasses their family. In my culture, the word “fail” connotes shame and embarrassment. However, the younger son returns to his father. He accepts the consequences of his actions. “But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him “(verse 20). Wright rightly explains that “in a culture where senior figures are far too dignified to run anywhere, this man takes to his heels as soon as he sees his young son dragging himself home.”3 I do not remember ever seeing my late father running. It is very unusual for senior women and men to run. 

The loving father is thrilled to see his son. He ignores his cultural norms and runs to welcome, embrace, and kiss his son before the son can apologize. After the son’s apology, the loving father orders his servants to clothe his son with the best robe, put a ring on his finger, and sandals on his feet (verse 23). The prodigal love of the father covers the filthy son with honor and love. He also orders his servants to prepare a fatted calf to celebrate his son who “was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate” (verse 24). The father’s order is not accepted in shame-honor culture because we do not celebrate an unsuccessful person. The prodigal love of the father goes against all his cultural expectations.

Jesus talks about the elder son who is angry because his father killed the fatted calf, which is kept for important events such as weddings, to celebrate his younger son. He refuses to attend the celebration, distancing himself from his family. His father leaves the party to plead with him, but the elder son argues with him and describes himself as a slave to his father. It is a possibility that the elder son assumes that anything the father spends on his younger son will come out of his inheritance.4 The father responds with kindness by assuring his son, “you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  But we had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found” (verses 31-32).

Why did Jesus tell this parable? Like the lost sheep and lost coin parables, Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal love of a father to respond to the Pharisees and the scribes who grumble about Jesus mingling with sinners and tax collectors and eating with them (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus uses the three parables to respond to his critics who focused on the sins of the tax collectors and sinners. 

Jesus demonstrates that God cares about the sinners and rejoices when they repent. Jesus eating and partying with the sinners symbolizes the feast and joy in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7, 10). These sinners welcomed and responded to the gospel. Jesus’ critics act like the elder son who refuses to rejoice with God over the repentant sinners. God begs them to join the celebration like the prodigal father in the parable.

Jesus tells us through these three parables that God’s prodigal grace and love reaches out to the sinners and outcasts, and God also does not leave out the Pharisees and the scribes. This parable should not be called the prodigal son but “God’s prodigal love”.

Jesus deliberately has an open ended story. He wants his hearers to fit themselves into the story and act out the ending. The church needs to act out the ending of the story, as well. Is the church willing to welcome the sinners who respond to Christ’s message? Or does the church refuse to join the party and celebrate with the repentant sinners?


  1. T. Wright,  Luke for Everyone (United Kingdom: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 2004.), 186. 
  2. Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke ( United Kingdom: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 581.
  3. Wright,  Luke for Everyone, 187.
  4. Wright, 189.

First Reading

Commentary on Joshua 5:9-12

Tyler Mayfield

On this Fourth Sunday in Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary recommends Luke’s Parable of the Prodigal Son as the Gospel lesson; it must be one of the most well-known of Jesus’s teachings. The Old Testament lesson calls our attention to four fairly peripheral verses in Joshua 5. The connection between these two biblical passages is not immediately apparent. We might venture to conclude that just as one son gets more attention in the Luke 15 parable, one of these lessons will likely receive more attention on this Sunday. 

Yet, we have here in this ancient story from Joshua an interesting moment in the life of ancient Israel. The people of God have been on a long journey through the wilderness and finally arrive at their destination. It is a celebratory story. 

Where are we in the book of Joshua?

Many folks may only remember the story of Jericho (and perhaps the character Rahab) from the book of Joshua. It is therefore helpful to place this story within the larger narrative of the book. Joshua 5:9-12 is the middle of a story. There are verses within this chapter both before and after our four focal verses. 

Our featured story of the Passover celebration at Gilgal occurs almost immediately after the Israelites cross the Jordan River, a reenactment of the Exodus event. They camp at Gilgal and perform the ritual of circumcision which they have apparently not performed while in the wilderness. These events echo Exodus 12 and demonstrate Israel’s transition into a new land. 

Our focal verses narrate the celebration of Passover at Gilgal in the plains near Jericho. Then, they eat the land’s produce (and not the manna that had been their food), so the manna ceases.  Our story occurs just before the familiar Jericho episode in which the people attack and conquer this Canaanite city as their first big military triumph in their new land. 

The Passover and the manna: God provides

The biblical tradition of Passover goes back to Exodus where it celebrates Israel’s protection from the tenth and final plague, the death of the firstborn. Its celebration here—their first in the land—marks well this transition as the people of God. They have been protected through their journey in the wilderness. The celebration bookends their journey: it is celebrated for the first time as they leave Egypt for their new land and celebrated here upon their arrival to that land.

Even though this story does not contain the violence often associated with the book of Joshua, it is important to note that the arrival of Israel into the land is both a fulfillment of a promise and the source of great violence for the people who already live in this land. We cannot read these stories as if the land is empty, as if the Israelites found themselves in unoccupied territory that is free for the taking. We must acknowledge the presence of the Canaanites even if they are not explicitly present in today’s story.

After years of wandering when the people of Israel arrive in the land, the manna ceases. They are no longer in need of the daily nourishment directly from heaven; the land can provide for their needs now. God’s provision for the people continues but in a different form.  

The rest of the story (Joshua 5:13-15)

I wonder if you have ever stumbled across a tendency within yourself or within humanity to see the world as only open to two possibilities. Have you witnessed a tendency to view the world in terms of “this” or “that,” as though there were always exactly two options in any given situation?

Joshua lifts his eyes and sees a person standing there with a sword in his hand. Joshua, a newcomer to the area, is anticipating what lies ahead in the city of Jericho, probably tired from the arduous journey. And standing before him is an unfamiliar person with a sword. 

In his fear and trepidation, Joshua asks a question. A wooden translation of the Hebrew might be, “Are you to us or to our enemies?” In other words, “Are you for us or for our enemies? 

It seems like a legitimate question. Joshua fears his personal safety and wants to know which side this person is on. Joshua, for whatever reason, has fallen into the binary trap, into dichotomous thinking. He’s dividing reality into “us and them”. There are only two ways of being according to Joshua.

In case you think I’m reading too much into Joshua’s question and accusing Joshua unfairly, when he is simply asking a question, the answer to Joshua’s question shows us clearly that Joshua has asked the wrong type of question. The text says that this unfamiliar person replies, “NO.” 

Well, that’s not an answer to this type of question. When given a choice between “this” or “that,” you don’t say NO. You choose a side!

It’s not the right answer—or is it?

The person’s reply immediately bursts open this binary way of thinking within Joshua. The answer Joshua receives invites him to stop thinking in us/them ways. The answer will not give in to Joshua’s assumption about us and them. It’s not about us versus them. It’s not about choosing this or that.

But the person continues. “No, I am the captain of God’s hosts or armies.” Now we learn that this is no ordinary person, this is a messenger from God. Again, the answer highlights Joshua’s simplistic us/them thinking. There is another option. It is not just “for us” or “against us”. There is also “from God.” A third category, another option.

“No, I am not for you, and “No, I am not for your enemies.”

“I am with God.”

When you are with God, you don’t have time for this us/them mentality. Other options exist. God is not interested at this moment in the story in choosing sides, in getting involved in our tendency to think about us versus them.


Commentary on Psalm 32

Beth L. Tanner

If the Sundays in Lent has named themes as in Advent, this fourth Sunday would be a festival to celebrate forgiveness.1

The psalm, the epistle, and the Gospel readings all directly speak of forgiveness and reconciliation. The same could also be implied for the Old Testament text, since it tells of the people finally settling into the land promised so long ago by God. This first Passover in the land represents God’s promise to the people, a promise delayed by the stiff-necked behavior in the wilderness. The Gospel lesson provides the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son and the Epistle calls on us to be reconciled with God along with the familiar liturgical phrase “Anyone in Christ is a new creation.” The psalm is the accompanying celebration, the music of this festival.

Forgiveness may be the greatest power in our lives. Without it, all of the relationships on which we depend would be lost. Its repetitive narrative rolls through the stories of the Old Testament. God lovingly gives what the people need; the people turn away; God forgives and the cycle begins all over again. We humans are remarkable consistent and thankfully so is God. While we all know the importance of this forgiveness, we rarely take the time to celebrate it. This is the Sunday to do so.

The psalm begins with an important Hebrew word, asher (see for example Psalm 1:1, 2:12, 34:8). It is often translated as “happy” (NRSV) or “blessed” (NIV). However, these English words, however, do not fully capture its full meaning. In Hebrew it is not a feeling or a condition, but a way of life (Hebrew “to go straight”). There is intention and determination in this word. It is the path of life chosen and lived. In this psalm, this one is not perfect but thankful for God’s acts of “lifting transgression” and “covering sin” and “not counting iniquity.” The last line of verse 2 dovetails with the 2 Corinthians text, this one now has “no deceit in their breath” or in Pauline words “is a new creation.”

The next stanza (verses 3-4) tells of the burden and shame of sin. It is that heavy feeling as if God’s hand is “heavy upon me.” It is the prodigal on the long walk home to admit his folly and beg for mercy. It is the feeling in the pit of our stomach when we know our words or actions hurt another and that our sin also hurt God. Yet at the same time, that gnawing is the pull of a desire for a restored relationship. Here the pain is so overwhelming that it is both mental and physical. Our bodies know the pain of our sin. We feel it in our hearts and in our bones.

It takes three lines to confess and one line for God to forgive (verse 5). The distress was self-made and this one stands to confess, knowing he/she has broken the relationship with God. In this moment, we are more vulnerable than at any other time. We have turned away and have returned, like the son, and our relationship and future lies in the hands of another. The only repair is grace offered by another. We can do nothing else but stand before God and hope that God’s mercy is wider than God’s anger.

The next stanza (verses 6-7) celebrates that restoration. The feeling of relief is as strong as the weight of dread. The language used is typical for the psalms, but here it is given a new definition. These terms are usually used for God hiding the one from the enemies. Here God is a protection from my own actions, or inaction as the case may be. The mighty waters are of my own doing (verse 6). God “hides me” and “protects me” (verse 7), and “delivers me” from myself and my idiotic behavior.

The next stanza tells us that forgiven sinners are not to be lectured to, but the one providing the lecture! Those forgiven ones are to teach others of a better way. They lead the band in declaring the importance of God’s path and the ways of forgiveness. It reminds us that full restoration means just that. If we are a new creation and God has buried our sins, then there should be community wide cheering and celebration. Instead often one’s worst moments of sin and failure follow them like a homing missile. Gossip undermines restoration for the person and the community. It is important to believe in God’s words of forgiveness for us and for others. Yet these words seem too good to be true. We often act like the brother in the prodigal parable. Yes he was harmed, of that there is no doubt. But God offers all the same restoration and we choose to rejoice or to sulk and brood or join into a celebration of forgiveness and grace. We can be generous or resentful. We can believe God has created us new, or we can wear our old sins like a heavy winter coat in the sunshine. Forgiveness is counter-cultural! Forgiveness is radical! Forgiveness changes the world! Forgiveness changes us!

Today, we tend to look to the choir anthems and the sermons as the center of worship. But today we are reminded, it is the Assurance of Pardon—that tiny moment every week when we give voice to God’s greatest gift. We have heard the words thousands of times. Today, really hear them and then celebrate the reality that it is these words that make life possible.

Read in context, verse 10 may not be about some unnamed wicked, but the ones who refuse to believe what has just been declared. They are tormented by grace instead of giving it up to God and being surrounded by God’s hesed. They cannot trust that God means what God says for another or for themselves.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on March 6, 2016.

Second Reading

Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Lucy Lind Hogan

What does it mean to be a “new creation”? What does it mean to be reconciled, and to whom? Scripture texts, read within a worship service, are shaped by that time and place. This passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth is being heard as the listeners move into the second half of Lent. We now are closer to Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter than to Ash Wednesday. We have had weeks walking through and wrestling with this season of penitence, repentance, and self-denial. During this journey we have been challenged to reflect upon who we are in relationship to God and to each other. 

Today’s gospel text explores an important question: Which “child” are we? Are we ready, like the younger child, to repent and become that new creation who has been reconciled to God? Or are we, like the older child, furiously clinging to that comfortable “old” creation with anger? As we continue the walk to the cross, Paul challenges us to reflect on these two themes: new creation and reconciliation.

New creation

Scholars argue that 2 Corinthians is not one letter. Rather, it is a collection of several of Paul’s letters to the Christian community in Corinth. The most intriguing of those “letters” are the concluding chapters, 10-13. Paul is angry. Other “apostles” have been trying to convince the new Christians in Corinth that they should not listen to Paul because he is weak. Not so, he declares (2 Corinthians 10:17-18). Through the power of the Spirit, Paul had become a new creation. Therefore, in this letter he works very hard, not just to convince the Corinthians that God is ready to make them new creations, but also to prove to them that he is one as well. 

In his teaching, Jesus introduced the image of the old and the new. We are, he told us, to be new “patches” on new clothing, and new wine poured into new wineskins, not put on the old (Mark 2:21-22). Paul continues the theme of “new life in the Spirit” (Romans 7:6). What does it mean to be a new creation? What does it look like to be new patches and new wine? According to Paul, it means that those things that were important, when we lived in the “old” flesh, are no longer to be of importance to us. 

Following Christ’s death on the cross, “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” (Galatians 6:15). If we have been clothed in Christ, we are no longer a Jew or Greek, a slave, or free, a male or female (Galatians 3:27). We are not to focus on those things that separate us from one another; those elements of “the flesh” bring about conflicts and disputes. When we are new creations, we become one with each other. Just as nothing will separate us from the love of God, so too should nothing separate us from each other. Paul draws attention to those things that were differences for him and for the new Christians in Corinth. Today’s reading challenges us to ask an important question. What are those things that separate us today? What is the old clothing that we must give up (Colossians  3:10)?

Paul also tells us, to be a new creation, we must, like Jesus, be willing to suffer. As a new creation, Paul found that seeking to proclaim love and acceptance of the other brought him seemingly endless affliction and persecution. He writes that, since taking the message of the Gospel into the world he has been imprisoned, flogged, lashed, beaten with rods, hungry, thirsty, cold and naked (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). When we become a new creation, we too will be called, through the power of the Spirit, to undergo all for God. What seems to be weakness and failure is, in fact, the very power of God acting in us for the reconciliation of the world. 


Through the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have, in the power of the Spirit, become new creations. And because of that we are called to be “ambassadors” of reconciliation. As new creations we have come to see that we are all one in Christ. The second important theme in this brief passage, therefore, is reconciliation, katallasso. The concept is mentioned five times in only six verses. Why do we need to be reconciled, and with whom? What have we done, or not done that has separated us from God and from one another? Is this something we are to do? Is this our task?

Reconciliation is an interesting concept. For most of us, today, we think about reconciliation in terms of the political, the legal, or economics. Business owners and union officials will engage in reconciliation talks to come to an agreement about wages. I used to have to reconcile my checkbook. Fortunately, the bank does that for me now. What does Paul mean by katallasso, reconciliation?

For Paul, in a way, just like my checkbook, reconciliation is about putting things in right order. It is about restoring balance. It is about bringing together those things that have been separated. In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul focuses on how God is bringing together the children of Israel and Gentiles. He uses the images of breaking down walls that have separated the two (Ephesians 2:14). Through God’s love and grace, those who are separated by distance, those who were far off, are now “brought near”. But what is important is that this is God’s doing, not ours, “in Christ God was reconciling the world” (2 Corinthians 5:19). 

May we, as new creations, accept this gift of grace that God has given us. And as we draw near to Holy Week, may we as new creations, explore what walls God is seeking to demolish today? Who are the strangers and aliens to whom God would have us reconcile and draw near (Ephesians 2:19)?