I think we’re all familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It is such a powerful story and especially important during the lenten season. Even though we call this the Parable of the Prodigal Son, it is important to remember that the scriptures do not actually use a title. This is a story about a son who took his inheritance and squandered it, but it also the story about a son who followed all the rules and did what he was supposed to do but was filled with bitterness. This is also a story about a father who has an invincible love for his two sons.
The younger son, it is said, asks for for his portion of the inheritance. That’s a pretty awful thing if you think about it. He is asking for what he would receive after his father dies – in other words, in his heart, the younger son has said that his father is already dead to him. Then it says that he went off to a far away country. The fathers of the Church have commented a lot on this passage, the far away country is meant to refer to self-alienation. That son went far from himself, from his core, from his true identity. He became a stranger even to himself by indulging in loose living and vice. He could no longer even live like a human being and so he became a servant of pigs. The scriptures remind us that pigs are the dwelling preferred by devils. Then the son, literally, “fell back into himself.” We hear about people hitting rock bottom, of coming back to their senses, of having the scales fall from their eyes. The son experience a deep moment of truth and he is no longer a stranger to himself because he remembers who he is, “I will return to my father.”
The story has us then focus on who this Father is. This father has not stopped thinking about his son since the day he left. This father has been watching the path leading home daily for any sign of his son. He has never stopped being a father. The scriptures say, “and while the son was still far off, the father caught sight of him and ran to meet him.” While the son was still unsure of his true identity, that he is a beloved son, his father ran to meet him and enveloped him with affection. Before the son has time to recuse his sonship, the father puts the ring back on his finger. The ring was a confirmation of his identity and belonging. He can never be a slave in his father’s house, he will always be a son in his father’s eyes. The father then reveals the truth about what happened to his son, “he was dead but has come back to life.” The father in this story certainly represents our Heavenly Father, but it also shows us the highest calling we have as men: true fatherhood. A true father communicates life to his sons and daughters. Life, as we know, is not just biological, it is spiritual. A true father can restore his children back to life, because he himself has been restored to life. A father is a teacher and a model, but most importantly he is merciful and able to re-inspire hope and confidence in those sons who have fallen.
The last figure of our story is the older son. He has remained with his father his whole life and has served him faithfully. Although this is true, he was bitter and unhappy. He was a rule follower, but deep down, he did not pursue goodness or virtue. He did not realize that when his father allowed the younger son to leave, he acted with wisdom. He judged both his father and his younger brother to be foolish. He lived like a slave because it was the right thing to do, but he too was in a far off land. He never laid claim to the benefits that were his by right as a son of the father. The older son was still waiting for his father to die to get his part. The father said to him, “My son, you are with me always, all that I have is yours.” The father had already given half to the younger son, so in the mind of the father, he had already given everything else to his older son. The older son lived in his father’s house but remained far from himself, from his true identity as a beloved son.
Today, some of you may identify more with the prodigal son, some with the elder son. The call to all of us is to come back to ourselves, and to our true identity as beloved sons of the father. If we live as beloved sons, we will become true fathers and will bring life back into a dying world.
CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA:
He clearly shows them that the God of all requires even him who is thoroughly steadfast, firm, holy, and has attained to the highest praise for sobriety of conduct to be earnest in following his will. When any are called to repentance, even if they have a bad reputation, he must rejoice rather and not give way to an unloving irritation because of them.1
What is farther away than to depart from oneself, and not from a place?… Surely whoever separates himself from Christ is an exile from his country, a citizen of the world. We are not strangers and pilgrims, but we are “fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God,” for we who were far away have come near in the blood of Christ.2
To be in the realm of lustful passion is the same as to be in the realm of darkness, and that is the same as to be far away from your face.3
When you are still far away, he sees you and runs to you. He sees in your heart. He runs, perhaps someone may hinder, and he embraces you. His foreknowledge is in the running, his mercy in the embrace and the disposition of fatherly love. He falls on your neck to raise one prostrate and burdened with sins and bring back one turned aside to the earthly toward heaven. Christ falls on your neck to free your neck from the yoke of slavery and hang his sweet yoke upon your shoulders.5
- COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 107. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 247). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- EXPOSITION OF THE GOSPEL OF LUKE 7.213-214. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (p. 248). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CONFESSIONS 1.18. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (pp. 248–249). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
“He fell on his neck and kissed him.” This is how the father judges and corrects his wayward son and gives him not beatings but kisses. The power of love overlooked the transgressions. The father redeemed the sins of his son by his kiss, and covered them by his embrace, in order not to expose the crimes or humiliate the son. The father so healed the son’s wounds as not to leave a scar or blemish upon him. “Blessed are they,” says Scripture “whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered.”4SERMON 3. Just, A. A. (Ed.). (2005). Luke (pp. 250–251). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.