Sunday of the Prodigal Son
The Gospel reading appointed for this day is an illustration of repentance - the parable of the Prodigal Son.
In this parable, our Lord tells us of a man who had two sons. These sons lived with their father where all that was necessary and good for their wellbeing was provided and available. In addition, the father had seen to it that each son would receive a generous inheritance of his wealth to take care of their future needs.
The younger son, demonstrating impatience, lack of contentment, and succumbing to the seduction of the world, asked for his inheritance in advance and left his home to go to a far country where he wasted his money and himself on the lusts of this world. After he had already squandered his fortune, a famine came upon the country where he was living and times became very difficult. At his lowest point, he found himself caring for swine and even coveting the scraps of food that were fed to the pigs.
At last, the Gospel tells us that ‘he came to himself’ and reasoned that he might return home and, even if he could only be hired on as a servant within his father’s estate, he would be better off than continuing in his current misery. And so, he took action and in humility he returned to his home. The Gospel tells us that while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and ran and fell upon his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before thee, I am no longer worthy to be called thy son.’ But the father was overjoyed to recover this lost sheep that was his son and commanded that a great feast be prepared in celebration of the return of he who was lost and is now found. (Luke 15:20-24)
There is hardly a more moving scene in all of the Gospels than this… for the Prodigal Son realizes the great treasure he never appreciated and left behind, he hits the depths of despair in the pit of sin into which he had fallen, he humbly comes home asking only to be taken in as a servant in his father’s house, and he is greeted not with scolding, not even with justice, but with his father’s love and compassion and sincere joy over the return of his beloved son. There is so much for us to learn and relate to in this Gospel parable…
Our heavenly Father gives to us all that we need and watches over us in this life. We are often blind and foolish in our expectations regarding what we think we need - for God’s ways are not our ways – but we must have faith and trust in Him that He does indeed watch over us. How often are we like the Prodigal Son – lacking that sense of contentment and appreciation for what we have? And in our pride and false sense of self-sufficiency we look out to the lure of the world and its promises of happiness and we chase our tails in the never-ending pursuit of buying this, or doing that, in our attempt to satisfy ourselves. This misplaced thirst for happiness leads us, like the Prodigal Son, farther and farther away into a ‘far country’ where we cut ourselves off from the source of true and lasting happiness.
This is precisely the pit of sin in which the Prodigal Son found himself and where we, so unfortunately and so unnecessarily often place ourselves. There is no mystery in the fact that we find ourselves feeling unfulfilled, depressed, or frustrated when we seek to find happiness in the fleeting enticements and offerings of this world. We might enjoy a short-lived satisfaction with the things of the world, but true and lasting happiness is only found when we align and attune ourselves with the source of happiness – our Lord and God. As Christ said to the Samaritan woman at the well, whoever drinks of ordinary water (the things of this world) will never quench their thirst, but he who drinks of the living water of Christ, that heavenly water shall become for him an abundant fountain, springing forth refreshment eternally.
Why do you think we have this dissatisfaction, this longing for something more? It’s because there IS something more… and, even if our fleshly mind has forgotten… our soul knows it. You can give a man everything the world has to offer and he will still not be satisfied. Inside every living soul there is a thirst for God, a homesickness for the Heavenly Kingdom. At some point, we, like the Prodigal Son, need to ‘come to ourselves’… we need to recognize that our vanity and selfishness are not getting us anywhere and that, in fact, they are the source of our misery. We must cultivate within ourselves that humble recognition of the goodness of God and, even though we are most unworthy, we must take the decisive action to arise and turn toward our true homeland, the source of life. This is the essence of what we call repentance – that change of mind and change of direction in our life which leads us back to God.
What is our common fear? That God will not have us?… that our sins are too deep, that our particular case is so special that God will not know what to do with us, or that He will reject us? And what do we learn from today’s parable? What is the father’s response to the contrite and broken heart of the returning son? We read that, even when the Prodigal Son was still a long way off, his father saw him coming and came out to greet him along the way. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the father happened to be at a place where he saw his son coming from a long way off. It is clear that the father had been watching and waiting each day in hope and prayer that his son might return. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is how it is with our heavenly Father… He stands at the door of our heart and knocks each and every day… waiting and watching in hope and expectation of our ‘coming to ourselves’ and our return to His loving embrace.
Even though you and I may be ‘a long way off’ spiritually from God, He sees our good intention, Nothing escapes God’s concern, neither a tear drop nor part of a drop. He knows our sorrow and desire to approach Him, and He, in his lovingkindness, comes out to meet us along the way – receiving us with open arms and commanding the angels in heaven to rejoice over the return of one who was lost and is now found.
May this upcoming Lenten season be for each of us a means for coming to our senses, for having courage to arise and go to our Father’s house. Great Lent is the season of repentance, of changing our mind and our ways. Let us take advantage of the mercy and assistance of the Holy Church as she prepares us to find our way back into the arms of our loving Father!