The 40 days of Great Lent are approaching, in which every Christian should strive to bring repentance to God.
In his parables the Lord tells us about the innermost secrets of spiritual life and the ways of gaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Today we heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the Holy Gospel this parable is preceded by the parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin (Luke 15). The Pharisees and scribes condemned the Lord for accepting sinners and eating with them (Luke 15:2). In response to them, the Lord told those parables, which depict how great is the joy in heaven when a sinner, who, having seemed already lost for the Kingdom of God, repents. In these parables the Lord speaks about the natural property of the human heart – the ability to rejoice when a thing is lost and then found more than for that which was not lost, even if the latter is much more expensive.
Let us briefly recall the content of today’s Parable of the Prodigal Son.
A father had two sons. The younger of them demanded from his father a part of the estate which would be due to him by inheritance. Having gone to a foreign country, the youngest son squandered his estate, living freely and dissolutely. Having become impoverished, he went to one of the local residents to be hired to feed pigs. He was hungry and wanted to be satisfied with the pigs’ food. Then he came to his senses and began to reflect: how many of my father’s hired servants live in contentment, and I am dying of hunger. I will go to my father, repent and say: I have sinned against heaven and before you and am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me at least like one of the hired servants. The younger son went to his father’s house. The father, seeing his son from afar, as he was always waiting for him, took pity on him, went out to meet him, embraced him, and, not letting him finish his words of repentance, said to his servants: dress him in the best clothes, give him a ring and boots, slaughter the calf and let’s make a joyous feast. During the feast the older son returned from the field and, hearing the cheerful voices in the house and learning the reason for the feast, did not want to enter. The father went out and began to persuade the older son to enter the house, but he reproached his father for the fact that he, who had worked for his father for many years, had never been deemed worthy of such a feast – unlike the younger, who had squandered his estate with depraved people. To that the father said: My son! you are always with me, and all mine is yours. You should be glad that your brother was dead and revived; he was perishing and is found.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us not only about sins and repentance, but also about the mercy of forgiveness that God gives to us. A certain man, says the Lord, had two sons: according to the interpretation of the Holy Fathers, by a certain man the Lord means Himself. And there is nothing surprising here, since He created the visible and invisible world for us and put a moral foundation into us, our conscience, in order to instruct us to goodness through it. The Lord, as the loving Father, gave His Son to die for our salvation. His love for us is greater than that of the fathers for their children of flesh and blood, because for us He made a sacrifice in order to revive us for eternal life through the Divine baptism and the grace of the Holy Spirit.
So the Gospel says: “There was a man who had two sons”. Two sons are the two types of people with different dispositions and tendencies towards sin or righteousness. The parable depicts as the younger son an unreasonable person who lives not according to God’s will, but according to his own. “The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’” The son is called the younger, because he is younger in mind, that is, he shows frivolity and immaturity, putting forward his reckless demand to his father. It is not with humility that the son asked his father for the inheritance, but he simply said it, as if demanded that from his father, making the father his debtor. What justice is the son talking about, how can a father be a debtor to his son? On the contrary, children are indebted to their parents as having received life from them. That request of the younger son shows his disrespect for the father.
The Lord gives the great gift of freedom to His children – the freedom to choose to walk a broad way or a narrow one. As the Creator, He does not need our gifts, since He does not lack anything, therefore He mercifully shares His property so that everyone can use what was given to him at his own will.
“Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living.” Our property is, first of all, our soul, our mind and body. As long as we hold on to God, our mind concentrates in God, but when we leave Him, that is, we open the doors to passions, pleasures, lusts, then our soul and mind become less reasonable, stop seeing the spiritual world, become deaf and blind to the Lord, to the voice of our conscience, they cease to distinguish between good and evil. “He who does not gather with me scatters” (Luke 11:23), says the Lord. Indeed, our mind without the Lord, as if throwing off the bridle, strives for recklessness, becoming like the mind of mindless cattle, that is, it squanders what is our true wealth – the spiritual and physical strength given to us by God. A frivolous person becomes poor, comes to a wretched state, but nevertheless, memories of his blissful life in the father’s house are preserved in his memory, since “the soul is Christian by nature.” That is, no matter how far we have gone from God, our the soul retains a certain idea of the bliss of life with God, feels its own deprivation, loneliness, rejection in the state of separation from God and suffers greatly from this.
Having left his father’s house and having spent everything, the parable says, the younger son began to starve, he began to be in want, and “he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine.” When a person moves away from God into the world of passions, where there is no God, he joins the devil. Our passions are like dirt or like animals that love dirt. One of such animals is a pig: it loves dirt, uncleanness, its eyes are always turned down to the trough with food. Piggishness can become a quality of a soul, when a person has vile unclean thoughts, when he is rude, selfish, intemperate, gluttonous, when he fattens his body, thereby multiplying his passions. Moreover, a pig, when fed up, leaves the trough, while a human being is not satiated in passions, since it is impossible to get satiated with sin. Such a soul is doomed to perish. “Look, those who distance themselves from you will perish (Ps. 73:27). The one who moves away from God is compelled to serve the devil; this bringing oneself to the most humiliating state is the reckoning for sin.
When the prodigal son saw what a trouble he got into, he bitterly wept for himself, and that was the beginning of his salvation. The Gospel says, “He came to himself”, that is, came to his senses, realized that he had moved away from the true path, felt his disastrous state. Then he resolutely said, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”” Those were the words of self-condemnation, humility and repentance. The son says, “I will arise”: it means that before he was lying in the mud of his sin. He believed in forgiveness and mercy, in the affection and friendliness of his Father, he believed that the Father would not turn away but forgive him.
Deeply aware of his unworthiness, which testifies to the sincerity of repentance, the son wants to tell his father: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as a slave, that is, as the lowest of Your servants.” As soon as the son decided so, he went home. He was still far from home, but his father, who, probably, went out many times in hope of meeting his son, peering into the distance, already saw his son and, out of mercy, rushed towards him, embraced him, kissed him and led him into the house. We hear no reproach, not a single angry word, not even a reminder of the son’s reckless deed: everything is covered with grace-filled love: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20), says the apostle.
Oh, how infinite is the love of God for the repentant sinner, His mercy for the one who has returned from a distant country, where there was suffering, loneliness, rejection. The father, in great joy, threw a great feast on the occasion of his son’s return. He ordered the slaves to bring the best clothes, ring and boots to his son instead of his rags. The father returns those benefits that the son lost when he left home. Why did the father do it? Why did not He first demand proof that the son had repented? Because he understood that his son, having overcome shame and fear, realized that he was guilty of sins and would never leave the house where he was forgiven and pardoned.
At that time, the older son, who had never left his father’s house, returned home. When he found out that there was a feast in the house on the occasion of his brother’s return, he was angry and did not want to enter the house. Then the father left the house and begged the eldest son to come in. The eldest son’s indignation is caused by the state of his supposed righteousness, his envy and pride. Not a filial, but a mercenary spirit is revealed by the older brother, who condemns his forgiven and justified brother, exposing the fulfilment of his duties as a merit and expecting rewards for this. Such were the Pharisees who condemned Christ, resenting His acceptance of sinners.
Is this how we, brothers and sisters, meet each other when we see that our loved one is returning from a distant country, where sin sometimes leads him or her? Do we often rush to meet the repentant, so that, without expecting words of regret about sins from the returning one, we ourselves can comfort, embrace and forgive?
Do we not more often behave like the older son, who saw in the prodigal brother only a sinner, whom he could no longer call a brother, – and as a result of this deprive ourselves of the common meal, which symbolizes the Holy Communion in the parable?
Let us think, do we know how to forgive? For the Forgiveness Sunday is coming soon. And if we do not know how to do it, this can turn into our condemnation and reproach, for those whom we sometimes condemn may have already been forgiven and accepted by the Lord for their repentance, suffering and tears.
On the eve of Great Lent we hear the edifying Parable of the Prodigal Son. We see from it that repentance is always possible for us, no matter how deeply we fall, no matter how much we move away from God in our sin. We see with what infinite love the Heavenly Father is always ready to accept us into His fatherly embrace. Let us hasten to take advantage of His mercy in the coming days of fasting, let us correct our sinful life by humility and repentance, so that there may be joy in our Father’s house about a son, who was once dead and revived, was perishing and is found!