The Prodigal Son
James Iliou, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology
+ In the name of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit.
"Of what great blessings in my wretchedness have I deprived myself! From what a kingdom in my misery have I fallen! I have wanted the riches that were given to me, I have transgressed the commandment. Alas, unhappy soul! You are henceforth condemned to the eternal fire. Therefore before the end cry out to Christ our God: Receive me as the Prodigal Son, and have mercy upon me."
This hymn is chanted on the Sunday of The Prodigal Son, which we celebrated in yesterday's Liturgy. We all know the parable of the father and his two sons, the younger receiving his share of the money and going off to a far away land and squandering it all on loose living. Then suddenly finding himself poor and hungry he realizes his folly and comes to himself and goes back to his father in repentance. His Father embraces him and holds a feast in his honor for his return.
The older brother, a son who always followed his father's wishes, never left his father's side, becomes angry and jealous, refusing to partake in the joy of his brother's return. He complains to his father saying: " Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him."
In the parable we are told and in our minds we think of the younger as being the Prodigal. But which one of these two brothers is truly the Prodigal Son? Is it the younger who leaves and comes back in repentance, or the older brother who refuses to welcome him back? I tell you it is both brothers. For if we examine the parable from a different view we will see that even though the older brother always obeyed his father, he too is constantly squandering his fathers riches.
How is he doing this? The Father has given all of us gifts, gifts that could be used for His glory, or squandered for our own purposes. The older son only obeys the father for he expects something in return! He has gone by the book all his life, for all the wrong reasons. He has not learned love, the perfect love that the father possesses! By not striving to be as perfect as his father is, he does things for the opposite reason, to what the father does.
He too lives in a strange land, for his actions are strange to his father, this is not the way that the Father created us to be, to live in self-centeredness, and even worse not to realize the sin of selfishness, and therefore not to feel the need to repent. His brother was lost but now is found, he was dead and now is alive again, all because of his remorse for his way of living, and his repentance in returning to the love of the even as a servant. His brother though is too blind to understand this, for he has done everything in his life by his father's law, but all has been done in vain, for he is lost in himself, and can not be found, he is dead in his sin, and can not arise for he is too blind to see.
How many Christians live by the book? Go to Church every service, out of duty, pray to God, but with empty words, help the Church financially, but for the wrong reasons, doing all this but never realizing the intentions of God and how we should truly live as Christians. They go home and gossip about each other, slander their neighbors name, and do not possess even the love to forgive their transgressors! Yet they expect to be saved for their empty works.
We are entering Great Lent soon, and Christ asks us today, which of these brothers are you identified with? What will we answer? Do we truly see our sin, or just our brother's and sister's? Do we indulge in cursing, gossiping, and slandering our follow Christian brother and sister's name? or do we come to ourselves and strive to be better everyday in repentance? Do we truly treat each other with Christian love or are we holding any grudges against anyone, or does it matter, for we live by the book and feel that we will be saved anyway?
We are all prodigals in our own way, but let us be like the younger prodigal Son, let us realize that we live in a strange land full of sin, and we need to return and live in our Father's kingdom where love and peace rule. Remember the hymn I quoted at the beginning "Therefore before the end cry out to Christ our God: receive me as the Prodigal Son, O God, and have mercy upon me."
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