The word that caught my eye in the first reading of today´s liturgy was “reproach.” “Today I have removed the reproach of Egypt from you.” What was the “reproach” of Israel that the Word refers to? It was that Israel from the beginning was a “privileged” people, but a people that had “forgotten.” This people, who were the descendants of Abraham and the Promise, eventually got down to Egypt because of a famine in their land. There they met Joseph, the brother they had tried to kill. A “privileged” people does not act this way. They had forgotten the God of their ancestors. Moses had to remind them that the one who was to liberate them from Egypt was indeed the God they had forgotten.
And the “reproach” of the youngster in the Gospel reading, what was it? Here was a young man who was a “son” but became extremely “disrespectful” to his loving father. It was this disrespect for which he was reproached. He dared to ask his father for what he planned to will him after his death. He then proceeded to squander his inheritance, living a life-style that was disgraceful to his father. In the end, he could see himself only a hired hand on the farm.
And me, what is the reproach against me and perhaps you as well? I am a “baptized” person but now a “back-slider.” I was once touched by the glory of Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection and made a new creature, as St. Paul speaks about today in the Second Letter to the Corinthians. I am someone who once knew the gift of God’s forgiving love, someone called to be ambassador of that love in the world. And now I have sinned and am a “back-slider.”
How are these reproaches removed? God removed Israel’s reproach of being a privileged people who had forgotten by revealing Himself to the people and rescuing them from their servitude in Egypt. God gave them the produce of a new land to eat. The reproach was taken away.
The reproach of the youngster in the Gospel reading was taken away by his father, who symbolizes God. The father ran to the son, embrace him, kissed him, dressed him up, wined and dined him and finally even defended him. His reproach was removed.
And how shall my—and your—reproach be taken away? That is yet a story to unfold. It would require of me the willingness to allow myself to be convicted of my backsliding. It would mean making the effort to do the turn around toward the baptismal identity that I have abandoned. It would mean, finally, deciding to live differently, faithful to what I was called to. That is the story of Lent, the journey from backsliding to faithfulness. If I can let God inspire this work in me, the reproach will be lifted.
The lifting of my reproach will follow the same pattern as that of forgetful Israel and the disrespectful youngster in the Gospel. It will be done by God, even though I am undeserving. And God will remove my reproach with prodigality, with a superabundance of grace and gifts. Finally, I will be able to get on with the life I am meant to live. That is the meaning of Easter. From the Lent of my reproach, I am lead to the renewal of Easter.
Easter opens the way for me to live anew more abundantly. It regenerates the sense of gratitude in my heart, allowing my life to become celebration rather than regret. And Easter allows me to assume the role of being the “ambassador” for Christ in our world, to take up once again the mission that was first entrusted to me and that I turned my back on because of my sin.
Today’s celebration of the Eucharist is a pledge of having the reproach removed. It is here that we remember the Death and Resurrection of Jesus that lifted our shame. It is here that we can be empowered again to a new life.