The Gospel passages read in Church on the four Sundays before Lent are not chosen randomly. Each contains lessons that prepare us for the Great Fast.
Zacchaeus Sunday (Luke 19: 1-10)
Zacchaeus, a tax collector and widely despised thief, climbed a sycamore tree (considered “unclean”) to better see the Lord. Jesus did not shun this sinner, but called out to him, saying He’d visit him. We learn that like a physician who heals the ill, Jesus has come to heal all sinners.
Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee (Luke 18: 10-14)
Jesus’ parable tells of two men praying in a temple: one is self-praising; the other humbly asks: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus says that the latter went home justified. We learn that we must approach spiritual struggles during Lent with humility.
Sunday of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus tells the parable of a wealthy landowner’s son who leaves home and squanders his inheritance. When he returns destitute but contrite, the father joyfully welcomes him, causing resentment in the dutiful brother. The father explains that a celebration is warranted for “your brother, was dead, and is alive again.” We learn that God, like a loving parent, is merciful and forgiving, that reconciliation with Him is a gift. We should not judge others, but rejoice when a sinner returns to His fold.
Sunday of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-36)
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that although Jesus came quietly
at his Nativity, at the Second Coming “He will come from heaven with supernatural wonders and manifest brightness.” We are reminded that the goal during the Great Fast, and ultimately our lives, is to prepare for the Judgment, to repent, to rid ourselves of vices and to cultivate virtues.
After hearing these Gospels in Church, ask what they might be saying to you on a personal level. Their lessons on forgiveness and repentance can guide and strengthen you as you undertake the sacrifices, actions and special disciplines during your Lenten journey.