Sunday, March 27, 2022

Change of Diet

4th Sunday in Lent (C) (Laetare Sunday)

Readings: Joshua 5:9-12; Psalm 33(34):2-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3,11-32

Picture: cc Steve Jurvetson

My dear friends, do you think it’s possible to be a vegetarian and still eat meat? I think the answer is no, right? It is not possible because, by definition, a vegetarian is one who doesn’t eat meat! Which may explain the current interest in plant-based alternatives to meat. They allow people to enjoy the taste of meat, and still call themselves vegetarians. For we know that to become a vegetarian requires a change of diet.

I mention this, because a change of diet is also what we find in our scriptures today. The first reading invites us to ponder the changes of diet that the Israelites had to undergo, from the food they ate in Egypt, to the manna in the wilderness, and now, to the local produce of the Promised Land. This more literal change of diet in the first reading mirrors a similar spiritual change in the gospel.

When the younger son finally comes to his senses, he resolves to stop feeding on the junk food of self-indulgence. He realises not only that such a diet fails to satisfy, but also that it causes him to treat others badly. So he returns to his father, ready to apologise for his bad behaviour. The older son too, although he may not realise it, is also being invited to give up junk food. Except that his guilty pleasure is self-righteousness. A diet that’s no less deadly, since it clogs his heart with resentment, and robs him of the capacity for joy. 

And it’s helpful for us to remember that the younger son in the parable actually points to the tax collectors and sinners, who were seeking the company of Jesus. Just as the older son refers to the Pharisees and the scribes, who complained. Both these groups of people are being called to give up their respective junk foods of choice, so as to truly enjoy the bountiful feast offered by God in Christ. The feast of reconciliation described in the second reading. Reconciliation with God, with others, and with all of creation. And this is the same feast that we are gathered here at this Mass to enjoy.

And yet, it’s not easy to give up junk food, even when we may know that the alternative is so much better. Just as it’s not easy for some Catholics, who have gotten used to watching a Mass online, to now switch back to worshipping in a church. Which is why we need to pay careful attention to another image in our readings, the image of the appeal. The image of a father, who forgets his own dignity, and rushes out into the fields to plead with his son. The image of a God, who begs us to change our ways, by allowing his Son to hang on a cross for our sins. And we may think also of the many other images – not just in Ukraine and Russia and around the world, but also in our own homes and streets and workplaces – images of people who suffer terribly, because of the self-indulgence and self-righteousness of others.

Sisters and brothers, for reasons of health and conscience, many people are willing to change their diets to become vegetarian. What are we willing to do, to truly enjoy God’s feast of reconciliation, and to share it with others today?

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