My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever.
Today’s Gospel of the Prodigal Son tells us not only about sins and repentance, but also about the mercy of forgiveness that God gives us. Likewise, in many ways, it continues and amplifies the same lessons that we learned last week with the Publican and the Pharisee.
Not to put too fine a point on it, and even at the risk of being redundant, the Church once again this week quite openly reminds us that the days of the Great Lent are approaching – the forty days of the Great Fast in which every Christian should strive to bring forth unto God fruits worth of repentance.
We are all sinners, each of us, and our way to salvation lies through repentance. It is through repentance that we return to our father’s house – the kingdom of heaven. And in recognizing ourselves as sinners, let our eyes be on ourselves and our own responsibility – we should neither blame others for our sins, nor minimize our own culpability by seeking to justify ourselves. Our justification is found not in ourselves but in Christ.
Nor should we minimize sin simply because we live in sinful times, when sin is encouraged, when even the notion of sin is dismissed. A sinner does not become less guilty before God just because his sin is common to many. In fact, common sins, to the contrary, are the ones which can most strongly excite the wrath of God, which will be visited on all sinners and all societies that work iniquity.
As part of our Christian vocation, we are called each of us to lament our sins, to shed the tears of repentance. As our Holy Father, Abba Pimen taught us: “Whoever wants to be cleansed from sins, let him be purified with tears. He who does not weep for himself will weep in forever in eternity. So, it is necessary to weep, either here – voluntarily, or there – from torment. ”
With these truths in mind, the Church calls our attention in today’s Gospel reading to the Lord’s parable of the Prodigal Son.
A certain man, – says the Lord – had two sons. Here, on the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, this “certain man,” is to be understood as the Lord himself.
So, says the Gospel, a certain man had two sons. The two sons are two types of people, having different dispositions and attitudes, and having different inclinations toward sin or righteousness. Under the image of the younger son in the parable is depicted an unreasonable person who lives not according to God’s will, but according to his own.
The younger son is so called, because he possess the more immature mind, that is, he shows frivolity and immaturity, making his reckless demand to his father. He marches right up to his father and demands, “Father, give me the portion of substance that falleth to me.” Not with even a hint of humility, the son asks for his part of the inheritance from his father. The spirit of the younger brother in this case in demanding his inheritance is almost as if the younger son felt that his father *owed* him, that the father was somehow a debtor to the younger son, who was now come to collect the debt owned to him. But what kind of justice is this, my dear friends? How can a father be a debtor of a son? On the contrary, children are debtors of their parents as having received their own substance from them. In this request, the younger son shows the most callous disrespect for his father.
And yet the Father, in his solicitude and in his mercy, gives the son what he asks. And so, having gathered everything, the younget son, heads out, heading to a far away country, foolishly and wantonly wasting what he had been given, and taking no care for his own end, living in idleness.
Do we not do the very same thing, dear friends? We demand here and now our inheritance – that is, instead of keeping our eyes toward the kingdom of heaven, in which, if we are faithful, we shall possess God, who is the ultimate yearning of all hearts, instead, we open the doors to fleeting passions, to worldly pleasures. Thus our soul and our minds become less judicious, they stop seeing the spiritual world, they become deaf and blind to the Lord and to the voice of their conscience, they cease to distinguish between good and evil. And indeed, our mind – without the Lord – acts with recklessness/
A spiritually frivolous person becomes impoverished, comes to a miserable state, but still he remembers memories of that blissful life that was in his father’s house, since “the soul of the believer – even the frivolous believer – is by its very nature a Christian,” having been created, formed, and vivified by Christ himself.
After leaving his father’s house and having squandered everything, the parable says, the younger son began to starve, and the only position he could find was feeding swine. When a person moves away from God into a world of passion, the illusory world of phantom pleasures which leave one less satisfied and more enslaved every time they are indulged… in a word, that world where there is no God… then the soul inevitably clings to the devil. Our passions are like the dirt or animals that love dirt. In the scriptures, by symbolism, one of these animals is the swine: a lover of dirt, or filth, the eyes of the swine are always turned down to the feeding trough. All of these attitudes can become a property of the soul when a person has vile unclean thoughts, when he is rude, selfish, unrestrained, gluttonous, thereby multiplying his passions. The swine, however, when satisfied will leave the trough. But the person is not satisfied in the passions, since it is impossible to find satisfaction in sin. Such a soul is doomed to perdition. He who moves away from God is compelled to serve the devil, thus bringing oneself to the most humiliating state, and this is the recompense for sin.
When the prodigal son saw the distress he was in, he mourned himself bitterly, and this was the beginning of his salvation. It is said: “And returning to himself,” that is, he came to his senses, he understood that he had gone far from the path of truth, he felt his disastrous condition. Then he said resolutely: “I will arise, and will go to my father, and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee.” These are words of true self-judgment in honest, words of humility and of repentance. He believed in forgiveness and mercy, in the love and the solicitude of his Father, believed that the Father would not turn away from him. He truly and humbly believed that his father would forgive him.
In the deep consciousness of his unworthiness, which testifies to the sincerity of repentance, the son wants to say to the father: “I am not worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thine hired servants.” As soon as the son decided thus, he went home. On his approach, he was still far from home, but his father, who, probably, had often kept watch for him, hoping day after day that he might see his son return, peering into the distance, catches sight of him. By his mercy, the father rushed to meet him, embraced, kissed him and brought him into the house. We do not hear reproach, we do not a single angry word, not even a reminder of the reckless acts of the son from the father’s mouth, everything is covered with grace-filled love.
Oh, my dear friends! The love of God is infinite – infinite! for a repenting sinner, infinite mercy for those who have returned from a country far away, where there was suffering, loneliness, and rejection. The father in great joy gave a great feast on the occasion of his son’s return. He ordered the servants to clothe his son in good garments, and shoes, and a ring on his finger, replacing the rags he had been in. The father returns the benefits that the son had lost, when he left the house. Why did father do this? Why did He not first demand proof that the son repented? Because he understood that the son, overcoming shame and fear, realized that he was guilty of his sins and would never leave the house where he was forgiven and pardoned.
Of course, at this time, the elder son returned home, having never left his father’s house. When he learned that there was a banquet at the house on the occasion of his brother’s return, he became angry and did not want to enter the house. Then the father left the house and begged the elder son to enter. The indignation of the elder son is caused by the state of his supposed righteousness, but it is righteousness brought low by his envy and pride. In this, the elder son approximates the spirit of the Pharisee of last week’s Gospel. For it is not the filial spirit, but the mercenary spirit that animates the elder brother here, causing him to condemn the forgiven and justified brother. Such were the Pharisees, who condemned Christ, indignant that He would accept sinners .
There are many other considerations regarding, especially, the elder brother which we do not have time to go into right now. Perhaps as we have time this week, we will be able to discuss them at greater length.
As it stands for us now, though, let us take the lesson of this parable with us now and ask: Do we not, my dear friends, often behave like the elder son, who saw in the prodigal only his sins and not the forgiveness of the father? Will we allow envy to kill our own faith?
Let us think also this week about how we can forgive, and who it is that we especially are being called to forgive, because the Sunday of Forgiveness is coming soon. If we are not willing to forgive, then it can turn into our own reproof, because those whom we sometimes condemn may have already been forgiven and accepted by the Lord for their repentance, suffering and tears.
On the eve of Great Lent, we hear the instructive parable of the prodigal son. We see from it that repentance is always possible for us, no matter how deep we may fall, no matter how far we may have departed from God in our sin. We see with what infinite love the Heavenly Father is always ready to take us into His fatherly embrace. Let us hurry to take advantage of His mercy on the coming days of fasting. By humility and repentance, we will correct our sinful life, so that there will be joy in our Father’s house about a the son – or daughter – who was once dead and now lives again, who was lost and now is found!