The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (15:11-32)
We are now entering the second week of the pre-lenten period in the Holy Orthodox Church. Last week we heard the Lord’s beautiful words about the publican and the Pharisee and we concluded from His words that the most important aspect of our prayers must be humility. Humility is the bedrock upon which the rest of the lenten journey begins and it is indeed a journey, a marathon. It is a challenge, not an easy task. Lent is no time to simply go through the motions, but a time to embrace the motions and activities as if they are holy supplements for our salvation. The Church knows that we as her children often lose our way. We often lack focus. We lose track of time. We lose track of ourselves. But the Church does not lose track of us. She is like a good mother who is watchful, and patient and gently teaches and corrects and makes sure that her children are on the right path.
Last week we began with the foundation of holy humility, and as we move on, we can’t forget the lessons of the previous week. Each one adds on to the whole structure that we are building. And what is that structure? It is the temple of the Holy Spirit, that is made up of each of us as individuals and even more so as a community of the faithful. Today we continue with the magnificent parable of the prodigal son. I believe that you all know this parable. We should know it well. It should be etched in our hearts because not only is it a picture of true heartfelt repentance, but it is also a splendid vision of the unconditional forgiveness of our heavenly Father. Both of these lessons are bound up together.
In the parable, we have a rebellious young man, not unlike the modern teenager or college aged student. Due to our fallen condition, it is fairly normal for young men and women to rebel. They rebel against their parents, against their teachers, sadly, they even attempt to rebel against God and the Church. I say attempt, because no one succeeds at rebelling against God or the Church. They succeed only at rebelling against themselves by betraying themselves into the hands of the enemy. In their search for freedom and power over their own lives, they often become slaves to sin. They neither add nor take away from the Lord or His Church. This happens because we are still affected by the sinfulness of our forefathers Adam and Eve and their rebelliousness towards God.
So youth will often rebel. It’s nothing new. It has happened for a long time. The Lord Jesus knew it to be a reality. But it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story. If you rebel away from your family and your church and your God, you must understand that that doesn’t have to be the end of your story. It can be the start of a turning point. It can be a chapter in a longer tale. So it is not the rebellion that is the most important aspect of the story, it is the possibility of redemption.
How did the redemption of the prodigal son come about? The son asked for his share of the father’s inheritance. He took the money and used it to live a loose life. He partied, he drank too much, he gambled, and he dated many women, instead of uniting himself to one woman in marriage. Everything that he could do wrong, he did. We are told that when he had spent every last cent, when his wallet was completely empty, a great famine arose in that country. He was now poor, hungry and could not even live off the land due to the famine. So he did what he thought best at the time and became a servant to one of the citizens of that area. Not only did he become a servant, but his servitude was a bitter one as he was charged with tending to the pigs in the field. But in all of this there was a hidden blessing. As the prodigal was sitting in the fields watching the pigs as they fought to eat the pods he had spread for them, he became so hungry that he even considered eating the pigs food. And in his hunger, we are told that he came to himself.
In modern language we would say that he experienced the rock-bottom moment. Often people who are in the midst of sin and addiction, need to experience such a moment before they wake up and take personal responsibility for themselves and their situation. But what was it that caused this to happen in the young man? It was his poverty and his hunger. It is one of the reasons why we fast; to open our hearts to God that we might come to our senses. And by coming to our senses, we might genuinely repent with hunger and thirst for all of the blessings that come when we live in the house of God, in His presence.
The young man, came to his senses and he repented with bitter tears. He had betrayed his father and squandered everything that was given to him. But he repented sincerely and said to himself “How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.” We see his genuine repentance in the fact that he does not just come and say “sorry.” He plans to tell his father that he is not even worthy to be called his son, but to be treated like a hired servant.
The Lord Jesus says all of this for our sakes. God desires us to return, but He desires us to return in a genuine way. Not with words, but with heartfelt compunction. He wants us to know that while He calls us His sons and daughters, we are in no way deserving of such titles. They are a product of His grace and His mercytowards us.
We are told that the young man rose and went to his father. This is the picture of repentance, as we get up from where we have fallen into sin and turn back and head towards God. But something unexpected happens to us as it did to the young man. While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and had compassion on him. He ran to him and embraced him and showered him with his kisses. What an amazing God we serve! What love God has for each one of us! And what is required in return? Simply to reject our old ways and to direct our gaze towards Him and to move towards Him in the heart and mind followed by the body. We take a few steps but God rushes towards us through the grace of the Holy Spirit. While we are still on the ground, praying and weeping, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort us and embrace us. He raises us up and robes us in one of His kingly garments.
We see the whole picture of redemption here. We see the fall, we see the repentance and we see the love of our heavenly Father to lift us out of despair and give us new life. We all fall. We all sin. We all rebel. Don’t let that be the end of your story. You do not have to remain hungry and enslaved to the evil one. Come to your senses quickly and run back to your Father’s house! He is waiting patiently for you to return. He desires to share everything that He has with you.Glory be to God forever AMEN.