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Atonement and the Prodigal Son

 

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Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio - Free Lenten Resources!The Atonement

and the Prodigal Son

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

 

 

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson, Marcellino D'Ambrosio“For our sakes God made him who did not know sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  

 

Some Christians reading these words over the last few centuries have gotten the wrong idea.  They’ve put this Scripture together with Jesus’ cry from the cross “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”  Plus they’ve added to the mix the Apostle’s Creed assertion that Jesus “descended into hell.”  The result is a huge misunderstanding.

 

It goes something like this.  The sin of the human race called down the punishment not only of physical death and suffering but also spiritual death, total separation from God which is what hell is all about.  Jesus bore this punishment in our place.  This means that he took our sins upon himself to the point that he actually became sinful and abhorrent to the Father.  He was thus truly abandoned by God on the cross and spent three days in hell, with the rest of the damned.

 

Let’s unravel this wrongheaded idea.  Last week we discussed the true significance of “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.”  This week we need to clear up the other two misunderstandings.  First, there is 2 Cor 5:21.  In Hebrew, the same word means both “sin” and “sin offering,” What Paul is really saying is not that Jesus became sinful, but that he became a sin offering.  This kind of sacrifice was understood as compensation or restitution to God to make up for offending him through sin.  Honor and glory that God deserved had been withheld from Him; in the sin offering, perfect, costly animals, the most valuable possessions of the typical Israelite, were paid back to God in reparation.Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ, Easter, Lent, Marcellino D'Ambrosio

 

The Passover Lamb had to be perfect, without blemish, and his bones could not be broken (that’s why Jesus legs were not broken like the two thieves, Jn 19: 32-37).  Jesus did not become sinful; he was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world by canceling them out through a sacrifice of overwhelming value.  His self-offering was an extravagant gift.  It consisted of all the love, humility, and obedience that centuries of human beings owed to God but had unjustly withheld from him.

 

The Father is not a blood-thirsty tyrant whose wrath is appeased by the suffering of Jesus.  He is the loving Father in the story of the Prodigal Son who respects his son’s freedom too much to force him to stay, or to send a posse after him once his sins led him to the brink of despair.

 

Prodigal Son, Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Catholic ChurchThe Prodigal Son walked away in arrogance.  He would himself have to travel the road back in humility.

 

Adam, Eve and all of us walked away in pride.  We, their sons and daughters, would have to walk back in humility.  Trouble was, we couldn’t, so deeply had we been wounded by sin.  So God became man and walked the road for us, though it turned out to be the way of the cross.  Perfect humility.  Perfect love.  Perfect suffering.  Relentless and undeterred by every conceivable stumbling block and snare that hell could put in its way.  That is what redeemed us and paid the debt of our sins.

 

But what about the phrase in the Apostle’s Creed “he descended into hell?”  The word used for hell means not the inferno of the damned (Gehenna), but the abode of the dead known as Sheol, Hades, or Limbo.  The meaning of this is simple– he really experienced the separation of his soul from his body.  It was no drill.  He really died.  For us.  For me.  It was love to the bitter end.

 

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson, Marcellino D'AmbrosioSo Jesus is the conquering hero, not the scape goat.  His free gift of unconquerable love is what atones for our sins.  And the Father rushes out to meet him in love clothing him (and us) with the resurrection. 

 

The passion, then, is all about love.  For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son who would lay down his life for not only his friends, but even for his enemies.

 

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Download and Print The Prodigal Son

Click here to download and print "Reconciliation and The Prodigal Son" in PDF 

This article was originally printed in Our Sunday Visitor and is reprinted here with permission.

 

For more Lenten Resources please visit the Library Page or 40 Ways to Get More Out of Lent.

 

For more reading on the Prodigal Son:

Prodigal Son and the Golden Calf - Dr. D'Ambrosio

 


 

I Believe - The Heart of Catholic Faith

First given as a Lenten retreat, this is an awesome 4 session program to revitalize your faith and prepare you for the joy of Easter. Great for individuals or families or small groups. The workbook is a treasure of discussion questions, devotions and spiritual exercises that can serve as an easy-to-follow roadmap through the Lent or Holy Week that will break you out of stale patterns and enrich both your prayer and your understanding of the central truths of the Catholic faith, empowering you to share that faith with others.

 


 

The Passion - (CD) The Meaning of the Movie - Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio
 Mel Gibson, The Passion of Christ, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Lent, The Catholic Church, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ What is The Passion about? Why did Mel Gibson release the movie on Ash Wednesday? The Passion - The Meaning of the Movie, a 45 minute talk will answer these and many questions.

 


 

Praying Scripture for a Change - Dr. Tim Gray (Book and Workbook)
 Praying Scripture for a Change - Dr. Tim Gray (Book and Workbook) In this succinct book, Catholic theologian and biblical scholar Dr. Tim Gray walks the reader through the Bible and the wisdom of the saints to reveal the practical steps of this great treasure of our Tradition. Learning the simple steps of lectio divina will provide a practical and effective way for you to enhance your prayer life through the power of God’s Word.

 


 

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