The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (15:11-32)
In today’s gospel reading we once again have the honor and joy of hearing a parable of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is one of the most well known and well loved of all His parables, the parable of the Prodigal Son. We hear this during the pre-lenten period because there are so many valuable lessons to be found within this message.
Among the first of those lessons is that God gives each of us an inheritance that we can either use properly or abuse. What is this inheritance? It is our very life as humans upon this planet. We are created in the image and likeness of God. That is an inheritance that we were given. Our life is a gift that we didn’t earn but it was given to us according to God’s good pleasure. And everything good in your life is also a gift from above. Your talents, your resources, your abilities etc. All of these things come from God.
Sometimes we as human beings can act just like this prodigal son. Sometimes we can forget the source of our blessings and we can forget what a blessing it is to dwell in our father’s house and we can be so hungry for independence and freedom and even fun, that we shirk our responsibilities and we choose to run away from home. Sometimes this happens in actual families, but what happens even more often is that we run away from God and we run away from our Father’s house. When I asked the kids about what the Father’s house symbolized, one of the young ones, only 7 years old answered correctly: The Church! Yes, absolutely. The Church is the house of Our Father. He allows us to dwell here and He feeds us through all of the spiritual blessings of the Church, starting with Holy Communion. All of the things of God, all of the blessings and the virtues that we gain by dwelling within the Church, these are the inheritance that God desires to impart to us. Mostly, He desires to impart Himself to us.
Nevertheless, throughout history we as humans have been rebellious against our creator. We have often run far in the other direction in order to gain a sense of freedom and to find ourselves. It is then not a surprise to us that the way that the young man found himself was not by running away from his father and living a loose and undisciplined and sinful life. He found himself when he ran out of money, lost his friends and lost all hope. He hit rock bottom in his own life. In that very moment where he was hungry and tired, even exhausted by his choices, he realized what he had done to himself and what had happened to his life before his very eyes. In that moment, he came to his senses and realized that in his father’s house he was living like a king and he had true freedom under the shelter of the roof that his father provided for him. He realized that while he had imagined himself to be like a prisoner and a slave, in fact, all of the rules of his father’s house were not meant to make him a slave, they were meant to protect him from becoming a true slave. And this young man had indeed become a slave. He was a slave to his own passions and desires. He was a slave to the will of the demons. He was not free at all.
It is likewise the case that sometimes we leave the Church, the Father’s house, and we imagine that somehow somewhere there is something more fulfilling. We imagine that somehow the Church is restricting our freedom. The world tries to convince us that everything can be ours if we simply deny Christ, His teachings, His Church and His saints and run after all the things that the world offers us. But it is all a mirage as the young man found out. For us as Christians we have come to understand that outside of Christ and His way, there is no true life. We have learned that even if we are struggling with our sins and desires, we will only find peace and freedom through the One who can destroy our chains and can grant us freedom because He even destroyed the bondage of sin and death.
St. John of Kronstadt once said,
“All our attention must be centered on the parable of the Prodigal Son. We all see ourselves in it as in a mirror. In a few words the Lord, the knower of hearts, has shown in the person of one man how the deceptive sweetness of sin separates us from the truly sweet life according to God. He knows how the burden of sin on the soul and body, experienced by us, impels us by the action of divine grace to return, and how it actually does turn many again to God, to a virtuous life.”
So this is our goal. To take the energy of our struggle and our pain from being separated from God and His life and to use this to fuel our repentance, our return to the Father’s house, to the Church.
I will leave you with a quote from St. Tikhon of Zadonsk who writes,
“Sinners that repent are still saved; both publicans and fornicators cleansed by repentance enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The compassionate God still calls to Himself all that have turned away, and He awaits them and promises them mercy.
The loving Father still receives His prodigal sons come back from a far country and He opens the doors of His house and clothes them in the best robe, and gives them each a ring on their hand and shoes on their feet and commands all the saints to rejoice in them.” + St. Tikhon of Zadonsk: Journey to Heaven
Let us also join them my brothers and sisters and rejoice together in the loving embrace of our Father. AMEN.