In today’s First Reading, God forgives “the reproach” of the generations who grumbled against him after the Exodus. On the threshold of the promised land, Israel can with a clean heart celebrate the Passover, the feast of God’s first-born son (see Joshua 5:6-7; Exodus 4:22; 12:12-13).
Reconciliation is also at the heart of the story Jesus tells in today’s Gospel. The story of the prodigal son is the story of Israel and of the human race. But it is also the story of every believer.
In baptism, we’re given a divine birthright, made “a new creation,” as Paul puts it in today’s Epistle. But when we sin, we’re like the prodigal, quitting our Father’s house, squandering our inheritance in trying to live without him.
Lost in sin, we cut ourselves off from the grace of sonship lavished upon us in baptism. It is still possible for us to come to our senses, make our way back to the Father, as the prodigal does. But only he can remove the reproach, restore the divine sonship we have spurned.
Only he can free us from the slavery to sin that causes us — like the prodigal — to see God not as our Father but as our master, One we serve as slaves. God wants not slaves but children.
Like the father in today’s Gospel, he longs to call each of us “my son,” to share his life with us, to tell us: “Everything I have is yours.” The Father’s words of longing and compassion still come to his prodigal children in the sacrament of penance.
This is part of what Paul today calls “the ministry of reconciliation” entrusted by Jesus to the apostles and the Church. Reconciled like Israel, we take our place at the table of the Eucharist, the homecoming banquet the Father calls for his lost sons, the new Passover we celebrate this side of heaven.
We taste the goodness of the Lord, as we sing in today’s Psalm, rejoicing that we who were dead are found alive again.
Scott Hahn is founder of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology, stpaulcenter.com.
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