To be prodigal is to spend money or resources freely and recklessly – to be wastefully extravagant.
This Sunday we continue the theme of repentance & forgiveness, already dealt with on the Sunday of the Publican & Pharisee.
The Epistle, St. Paul deals with the mortification of the flesh because in 8 days we will begin a period of the Fast. St. Paul tells us, “Don’t you know you are members of Christ and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Fasting from food is neither the only or the highest form of fasting. Purity of heart and thought, as well as the body itself is imperatively require of us, whether in marriage or celibacy.
What is the center of the Gospel? Is it the change of heart experienced by the young man who left his father, squandered his inheritance in a life of debauchery, suffered such hunger that he envied the pigs (The Prodigal Son (like Adam rebelled against his father) feeding the swine would be like Jewish skid row. He could not sink much lower), who had husks to eat, and then decided to leave and return to his father. The Prodigal Son realizes how many of his father’s hired servants had bread enough to eat. The bread symbolizes Christ, who is known through the Scriptures and the Eucharist.
There are people, as they live prodigally from their youth, who observe in themselves many improper things. Spending their time in drunkenness and wantonness, they have fallen into a depth of wickedness and reached despair, which is a result of pride. The Church Fathers wished to save the prodigal from despair, showing God’s forbearance and plenteous goodness, they aim to entirely uproot such passions from sinners’ hearts and to inspire them to take up a virtuous life again. The Fathers’ purpose is to show that there is no sin whatsoever that can prevail over His
love for mankind.
The central figure of the parable is the father. The presence of a completely unselfish and freely given expression of tenderness. The father has waited and kept watch for the prodigal. When seeing him far off he could no longer restrain himself, overwhelmed with compassion, runs out to meet his child, falls on his neck and kisses him warmly. This self-humiliation for the sake of the lost indicates the way in which our Father, through Christ’s sacrifice, actively seeks those who stray.
The Father in this parable represents God, the Lover of Mankind. The two sons are the two kinds of men, righteous and sinners. Christ compares sin to the carob pod, being as it feed for swine. The carob pod at first tastes sweet, but afterwards it leaves a tough pulp in the mouth, which are
the same properties of sin.
The Father accepts the son in repentance and does not chide, but displays His divine and paternal compassion by enfolding him in His embrace. He gives him a “garment,” Holy Baptism, and as a “seal and token’ the grace of the All-Holy Spirit. The Father sacrifices for him the “fatted calf,”
His only-begotten Son, and He allows him to partake of the “flesh and blood,” the Savior’s Holy Communion.
Approximately 5 years ago, I had lunch with Fr. John Riccardo on Byzantine New Year. Fr. John and I have some similarities in our upbringing. Fr. John encouraged me to attend an Unbound Conference. Fr. John gave a talk entitled “The Father’s Blessing.” Father John spoke of the Prodigal Son. He referenced Fr. Dn. Lawrence in his Riassa running to greet his son would be like the Father running in the field to greet the Prodigal Son. The next day was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son and I thought of Fr. John Riccardo’s words as I was proclaiming the Gospel.
The robe signifies the righteousness that is granted by baptism, the ring is family identity and the sandals refer to walking according to the gospel, the fatted calf to be killed and a feast prepared. God does not simply restore a repentant sinner to the grace he might have possessed before sinning: he bestows on him the greatest grace he could receive, a maximum of grace. The story of the prodigal is our own story….
Like the Prodigal Son, I desired to live a life according to my will. I went on a retreat – Holy Transfiguration Monastery with Teens in the 70s. I am grateful to a couple here at St. Stephen Church who prayed for me this past fall at Medugorje and gave me the weapon against my Goliath (5 Stones – Prayer with the heart, Eucharist, Holy Bible, Fasting and Monthly Confessions).
There was thunder, lightning & rain for hours while I and other teens were trying to sleep in tents. It seemed like the weather conditions were God’s judgement on us as teens. I committed my life to God if I was kept safe. The commitment (although at the time seemed feeble) it turned out to change my life in a several ways. Fr. Fred Saato was the Retreat Master. I had the opportunity to reconnect with Fr. Fred 10 – 12 years later. I was invited to the Byzantine Melkite Convention at the Renaissance Center in Detroit. I got on an elevator with Archbishop Lutfi Laham of Jerusalem w/o realizing who he was. I was going to hear Archbishop Laham speak about the Holy Spirit.
About 15 years later, after Archbishop Laham became Patriarch Gregorios III of Antioch, I had the opportunity to serve & vest Patriarch Gregorious on his 1st visit as Patriarch to the United States.
The elder son does not enter into the common joy because he cannot comprehend his Father’s loving generosity. But the human Father stops him, responding calmly with kind and gentle words: “You are always with Me, and it is fitting to be glad and to rejoice with your Father. This parable can also be understood in reference to the Jewish people and to us. The parable was placed here by the Holy Fathers because it uproots the despair and faintheartedness to engage in good deeds and it exhorts anyone who has sinned like the prodigal son to repentance, which is a great shield that averts the enemy’s arrows and a mighty means of defense.
The parable also teaches us that we should not be troubled when sinners repent and are received by God when we ourselves are struggling, with God’s help, to live a life of righteousness. We must not judge our neighbor’s life – that belongs to God alone – nor God’s bountiful mercy, but
we must rejoice with Heaven when a sinner returns to the Father.
As we continue through this preparatory period, the teachings on humility and repentance appropriately prepare us to proceed with a contrite spirit further into the great season of compunction.
O Christ our God, through Your unutterable love for mankind, have mercy on us and save us. Amen!