2012, February 12 – The Prodigal Son

Fr. Robert Miclean
Holy Archangels Orthodox Church
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
February 12, 2012

Epistle:            I Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel:            Luke 15: 11-32


Christ God gives us this Parable of the Prodigal son on this Sunday to demonstrate His love for us, to rescue us from sin and our passions, to call us to repentance, so that we may in the end become inheritors of His heavenly kingdom.

By the father here we are to understand Christ.  Our earthly fathers give us life as this father has given life to his two sons.  Christ God is the Author of all life.  It is because of His love for man that the human race participates in the building of His creation in this way.   And His creation is for the purpose of making us into sons through adoption into His divine life.  This is His desire for every soul that is conceived.  Like the father in the parable, Christ God has an inheritance planned for us: His kingdom, life with Him.

The younger son in the parable demands his share of the inheritance prematurely as if it is his by right, rather than a gracious gift from his father: he feels he has it coming to him.  There’s no prostration here, but rather a command, “Give me the portion of goods that falls to me.”

Why does the father give in to the son’s command?  The answer, as we will see, is to save him in the end.  The son’s heart is already in exile.  He’s already given himself over to the estrangement of the far off country roused by his sinful passions.  Only repentance cures this sickness of soul.

So, he goes off to the far country and there squanders the gracious gift of his inheritance on riotous living, carousing.  He gives himself completely over to his passions, but in the end, finds himself barren, hungry, and in want.  It cannot satisfy or fill the emptiness in his soul.

So it is for man: there’s no sating the passions; there’s no way to satisfy their greedy want.  The more we give in to them, the more they will demand—until our soul is dead, until we are dead.

The young man is saved only when ‘he comes to himself’, that is, his right and sober mind and heart returns to him for a moment—and he realizes the depth of the mire—the pigs slop—that’s he’s sunk himself into.  His physical hunger (he longs to fill his stomach with the pods the pigs eat), pales in comparison to the starvation of his soul.

Amos prophesied, “’Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘that I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11).  We live in an age when this prophecy could equally apply to us as well.  We live in a culture of unprecedented opportunity and opulence, coupled with godlessness.   We may ‘do our duty’ before the Lord—whatever we perceive that to be—but often neglect our souls, our divine vocation and promised inheritance that God in His love desires to share with us.  Instead, we often prefer the far off country, our worldly pursuits.  We take in little of the “words of the Lord.”  We spend far more time and energy pursuing the mundane things of this world: working, schooling, entertaining ourselves, than we do focusing on Christ, serving God, and desiring to live out our calling as His adopted sons and daughters.  God desires more for us!

Compromise with the priorities and values of this culture: making peace with humanism, secularism and nihilism for the sake of oversensitivity, prideful fear of standing out as Orthodox, will not save us or lead to deification and salvation.  Instead, it will lead our souls step by step into exile away from our Heavenly Father and the inheritance of the Saints we hope for in faith.

St. Gregory Palamas rightly says, that the devil beguiles us little by little, whispering to us, “even if you live independently without going to God’s Church or listening to the Church teacher, you will still be able to see for yourself what your duty is and not depart from what is good” (Homily Three, On the Parable of the Prodigal).  This is the lie he whispers to us in our day.

The reality is that if we are too busy for church and still think our soul is healthy, we are deceived.  Likewise, if we compare ourselves to other Orthodox who take and leave what they want from holy Church and pattern our lives the same way and think we’re not squandering our inheritance, we’re deceived.  Luke warmness will not grow us further up and further in the Kingdom; it will keep us in exile; it will keep us from healing.

The hired servants of the father in our parable are those in this life who practice active repentance; they serve the father.  After the prodigal comes to himself, that is, his right spiritual mind is restored, he remembers who he is one of the sons of his father, he repents with vigor, he recognizes his sins and he turns from them to his father, that is, to God.  He desires to return to his father to become one of his hired servants, for, he says, “how many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare…”

So what does the son do?  He goes to his father to beseech him for forgiveness, to prostrate himself before him—desiring to become one of his hired servants.  There’s no self-legitimizing pride left: the son has gained humility in his exile.  He returns a different man, a true son.

Such a contrite and humble heart is what we each need to be open to cultivating a repentant spirit in our own lives.  Repentance is a tool we need to make use of continuously to evaluate our actions, words, and thoughts, continuously striving to re-orientate them to Christ God, as St. Paul admonishes: “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Now is the time to repent of our exiled minds and hearts.  Now is the time to purge ourselves of whatever degree of enslavement we have to this culture’s godlessness, dehumanization, and vainglory.  All such nihilism leads to a spiritually vacuous wasteland for our souls.

God desires so much better for us: He runs out to meet us in our repentance as the father in the parable does as he first sees the son coming home.  He runs to embrace us just as soon as we start to return to our divine calling: striving to glorify God and live for Him, to be the adopted sons He’s created us to be.  God showers us with His forgiveness and love even before we can prostrate ourselves before Him or muster anything close in terms of a response to His graciousness and love for us.

When our heart and our mind are focused on Christ and His Kingdom, we know where we are headed, we journey as sons further up and further in the Kingdom.  This Kingdom, this inheritance, begins now manifesting itself in our lives.  It is made day by day as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, in humility and repentance.  God receives us.  He loves us.  He makes us not into one of His hired servants, but instead restores our sonship.  He feeds us with the fatted calf, that is, His Lamb, the Body and Blood of Christ, the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet of our inheritance with God in all the Saints.