Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle C Sunday Connection

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Sunday Connection

Sunday Connection

God speaks to us in many ways, including through the Sunday Scripture readings. The Sunday Connection provides useful background and activities to better understand the upcoming Sunday's Scripture readings, helping you to connect the Scripture to daily life in a meaningful way.

Fourth Sunday of Lent, Cycle C

Sunday, March 6, 2016

This Sunday's Readings

Year A RCIA Scrutinies

First Reading
Joshua 5:9a,10-12
The Israelites celebrate the Passover in the promised land.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 34:2-7
A prayer of praise to God.

Second Reading
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
Paul preaches our reconciliation with Christ.

Gospel Reading
Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Background on the Gospel Reading

The parable Jesus tells in today's Gospel is unique to the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has been teaching the crowds as he journeys to Jerusalem. As he teaches, the Pharisees and scribes complain and challenge Jesus because he is welcoming sinners at his table. Today we hear the third of three parables that Jesus tells in response to his critics. These three familiar parables—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and today's parable of the prodigal son—invite us to consider the depth of God's mercy and love.

The Pharisees taught a scrupulous observance of Jewish Law. In their interpretation and practice, observant Jews who shared table fellowship with sinners would be made unclean. Like Jesus, the Pharisees hoped to lead sinners back to God. The Pharisees, however, required that sinners first become ritually clean—observant of the Pharisees' interpretation of Jewish Law—before sharing table fellowship. This appears to be one of the major differences between the Pharisees and Jesus. Jesus reaches out to sinners while they are still sinners, inviting them to conversion through fellowship with him. Jesus is God acting among us; by befriending us, he is inviting us to return to friendship with God. Through friendship with Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we, in turn, bear fruit for God. Recall last Sunday's Gospel and the barren fig tree.

Our familiarity with today's parable risks dulling us to its tremendously powerful message. We call this the parable of the lost son or the prodigal son. Any focus on the younger son, however, must also be balanced by an examination of the unusual behavior of the father.

First we must imagine our first response to the audacity of a son who asks for his inheritance before his father has died. Indignation would certainly be a justifiable response to such a request. Yet the father in this parable agrees to honor the son's request and divides his property among his two sons. How might we describe such a father? Foolish comes to mind, but so does trusting. Without property of his own, the father must rely upon his sons to provide for his well-being.

The younger son takes his inheritance and leaves home. The older son remains, continuing to provide for the father and the household. Having been disgraced by the younger son, the father spends some time watching the road for the return of the lost son. When he eventually sees his wayward son returning, the father not only welcomes him but also runs out to greet him and then honors him with a party. We say that this father is loving and forgiving. Yet these adjectives only begin to describe the depth of love and mercy that characterize the father.

We find no surprise in the anger of the older son. Yet the father appears sad and even confused by the older son's indignation. He says in reply that they should celebrate because the lost son had returned. The father is filled with gratitude and love for the older son's faithfulness. This love is in no way diminished by the father's rejoicing at the return of the younger son. Yet the older son's jealousy reveals his limited understanding of the depth of his father's love.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent is traditionally called Laetare Sunday. Laetare is a Latin word that means “rejoice.” Today's Gospel describes the reason for our joy: God's great love for us has been revealed in Jesus. Through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Christ has reconciled us with God and one another.

Gospel Reading
Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Making the Connection (Grades 1, 2, and 3)

Young children are continually learning the importance of expressing sorrow for wrongdoing and seeking forgiveness. In today's Gospel, we have the opportunity to invite them to an appreciation of God's generous mercy and love.

Materials Needed

  • A yo-yo

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Bring a yo-yo to class. Put the loop around your finger so you're ready to operate it but instead, cradle it in your hand. Say: From the moment of our creation, God loves us very much and wants to keep us close always. God gives us everything in the world that we can possibly need—air to breathe, food to eat, and each other so we will not be lonely. Some people stay close to God all their lives. Let the yo-yo down a few inches, supporting it in your free hand. This makes God happy. Other people are always looking for something more. They don't want to follow the rules God gives us to live a good life. Let the yo-yo down a few more inches by moving your supporting hand lower. They aren't satisfied with what God gives them. Let the yo-yo down more. God is sad to see people act this way. Let the yo-yo down almost to the bottom. Sometimes these people are sorry and want to come back to God. Do you think God forgives their bad behavior? Yank the string, bringing the yo-yo back up to the cradled position. God forgives us whenever we are ready to say we are sorry for what we have done.

  2. Say: In the Gospel this week, Jesus tells the people a story about God's love and forgiveness. He says that God is like a man whose son goes away. When the son comes back, his father has a party for him and treats him like a king. He forgives his son for leaving him. Let's listen carefully to this Gospel.

  3. Read aloud this Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11-32.

  4. Say: If ever we feel we have done something so bad that God could never forgive us, we can remember this story. During Lent, we tell God that we're sorry for doing wrong and ask God to forgive us. Let the yo-yo quickly down and up.

  5. Conclude by praying together an Act of Contrition.

Gospel Reading
Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Making the Connection (Grades 4, 5, and 6)

Older children are learning to accept responsibility for their actions. We invite them to appreciate the gift of the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we help them to see that God responds to us with generous mercy.

Materials Needed

  • None

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Talk about anticipating the consequences of our actions. Offer an example such as the following: Imagine this situation: the rule in your house is that you are not allowed to play soccer in the living room. While your parents are outside, you and a sibling decide to play soccer there anyway. While you are playing soccer, the ball hits a lamp, sending it crashing to the floor. What do you expect that your parents will do when you tell them what happened? (Accept all reasonable answers.)

  2. Say: Perhaps we haven't ever broken a lamp, but we have all had the experience of needing to accept responsibility for having done something wrong. When you admit to having done something wrong, what do you expect to happen? (Accept all reasonable answers.) Can you imagine asking your parent to forgive you for something you did wrong and hearing that a party was going to be given in your honor instead?

  3. Introduce today's Gospel. Say: In today's Gospel, we hear a story in which a son does something wrong and expects a consequence to follow. In fact, the son describes exactly what he thinks should happen. What actually happens in the story is quite surprising.

  4. Ask a volunteer to read aloud this Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11-32.

  5. Ask: What does the son expect the father to do after he admits his wrongdoing? (The son expects to be disowned by the father.) What consequence for his actions does the son ask for? (to be treated as a hired hand) What does the father do instead? (The father welcomes the son back with honor.)

  6. Say: The father in the parable is an image for us of how much God wants to forgive us. If ever we feel we have done something so bad that God could never forgive us, we can remember this story. During Lent, we say we're sorry for our sins and ask God to forgive us. In particular, we seek God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  7. Invite the children to create an acrostic using the word forgiveness. Encourage them to write phrases for each letter that describe the kind of forgiveness shown in the parable.

  8. Conclude by praying together an Act of Contrition.

Gospel Reading
Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Making the Connection (Grades 7 and 8)

Young people are capable of reflecting deeply on the Christian understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation. We can invite them to appreciate these graces that we receive through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Materials Needed

  • Craft sticks

Preparation for Sunday Scripture Readings

  1. Bring in enough craft sticks so that you can give one to every two young people. Break the sticks in half, mix them up, and randomly distribute one half to each young person. Then invite them to move about the room to find the half that matches their half and when they do so, to tape the two pieces back together.

  2. Say: In this activity, we put back together something that had been broken or separated. This is one meaning of the word reconcile. How else might we define and describe the meaning of the word reconcile? (Accept all reasonable answers.) In today's Gospel reading, Jesus describes God's reconciling love in a parable. Many of us are familiar with this parable, so let's listen carefully so that we can discuss this parable in detail.

  3. Ask a volunteer to read aloud this Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11-32.

  4. Prepare three columns on the board, listing the following as column headings: Characteristics of the younger son; Characteristics of the father; Characteristics of the older son. Discuss the parable by identifying the characteristics of each of the three main characters.

  5. Say: The father in the parable is an image for us of how much God wants to forgive us. In our lives, we are sometimes like the younger son; we wander away from God. At other times, we might be like the older son, jealous of the love and forgiveness that God shows to others. This story speaks to us of the meaning of reconciliation, of God's forgiveness and the mercy God wants us to show to one another. During Lent, we remember this story and we seek to be reconciled with God and others, especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

  6. Encourage the young people to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Provide dates and times when this Sacrament can be celebrated in your parish during Lent.

  7. Pray together an Act of Contrition. After praying this together, invite the students to pray quietly thanking God for his great love and mercy. 

Gospel Reading
Luke 15:1-3,11-32
Jesus teaches about forgiveness in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Family Connection

“Hey, that's not fair!” How many times have we heard this spoken in our family? Family members challenge one another's generosity, operating from the perspective of limited resources. If we have given to one, perhaps there won't be enough for the other. Jesus wants us to understand that this is not how it is with God's mercy and forgiveness. God offers his love to all of us in abundance. The forgiveness of the father in the parable is an image of God's love for us, generous beyond measure in his love for both of his sons. Can we truly believe that God acts this way towards us and accept his mercy without jealousy, knowing that God's love for another does not diminish his love for us?

As you gather as a family, talk about the words and phrases you speak to one another when angry. Identify words or phrases that reflect jealousy towards one another. Talk about why we sometimes feel jealousy towards one another. Read aloud today's Gospel, Luke 15:1-3,11-32. Talk about why the older brother is jealous of the younger brother. Identify words that the family members in the parable might say to one another to begin to heal their broken relationships. Make a family commitment to say these types of words and phrases to one another with greater frequency. Pray together the Lord's Prayer.