1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Luke 15:11-32

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Christ is in our midst! He is and shall be! The Fathers of the Church have very wisely ordered the readings leading us into the season of the Great Fast. There are so many avenues we could take with each parable, each of those avenues preparing us in some way for Great Lent. But each year we can only look at the parables from one perspective, otherwise we risk taking on too many things, and finding ourselves over-weighted even before we have the chance to begin. The Fathers warn us to know our measure—know how much we take on at any one time, so we’re able to function to the absolute best of our ability. This year, we’re taking the path of humility and repentance in the parables. The Christian life is all about repentance—turning away from our evil thoughts and words and deeds, and constantly re-focusing our lives on Christ. To repent is not to continually say, “I’m sorry,” but to always hold Christ as the measure of our lives and actions. And in fact, to live the way that we were created to live from the beginning. Last week we spoke about what it takes to properly repent—a broken and contrite heart. In essence, it takes humility for us to repent. And in fact, to live the Christian life at all, the Fathers teach us that humility is the principle virtue that’s necessary. So this is how we’ll approach this morning’s parable of the Prodigal Son—from the avenue of deep humility which leads to repentance. In fact, in this parable, there are two displays of humility. The first is in the humility of father’s reaction to his son’s rebellion at the beginning of the reading. The father doesn’t try to change his son’s mind. He doesn’t agree with his son’s decision, but he has to respect his son’s freedom to choose his own course in life. And of course, he doesn’t sit around and gloat because he knows that he’s right. He waits in anticipation daily for his son; he prays and worries for his beloved child who’s made a poor decision. But the father exercises a deep humility in respecting the will of his son. We need to see this type of humility in the father, because most often this is the humility we need to conduct ourselves properly in the world. We’ll always be pushed and misused and misunderstood and not listened to, and it takes humility to be able to respond as Christ would have us respond in each situation. And then we have the humility of the Prodigal. At the beginning of the parable he’s in the prime of life, he has his fortune, his inheritance, and he sets out into the world to do whatever he wants to do. This is an enormous feeling of both freedom and power for the Prodigal. But, of course, the money runs out, and not only that, but a famine hits the land. He has no way to earn a living, no food to eat, and he’s sunk to the humiliation of stealing food from the pigs he feeds. This scene is crucial for us to understand. Everything he’s always wanted has slipped through his hands, and he’s reduced to feeding pigs, an unclean animal that the Jews weren’t even allowed to have contact with. He’s fallen as far as possibly could fall. Yet for some time, we don’t know how long, but for some time he continues to live like this. His pride is overwhelming—and this is the place that we often find ourselves. We’ve taken charge of our own affairs. We’re trying to run our lives the way we see fit. And as things fall apart all around us, we just sit there, and continue to live in the mess that we’ve created. But after some time, the parable says, the son finally comes to his senses. He realizes the insanity of what he’s doing. His father is wealthy—he can go back home, and even living as a servant in his father’s house, he’ll be incomparably better off than he is on his own. This realization on the part of the Prodigal Son requires the transformation of his complete reliance on himself into humility. The trials that he undergoes reveals to the Prodigal his true self. He sees that his father’s way was far better than his own. And then he has the choice—to remain in his pride and live with the pigs, or to humbly return to the house of father. Our lives follow the same path—as we’re humiliated, as we fail time and time again, we have the choice to continue in our own way, or to turn to Christ in repentance and humility. So practically speaking, how do we cultivate this humility over the course of the Lenten season? Two ways in which we can struggle every day, very similar to the decisions the Prodigal had to make in the pigpen— 1-Renunciation of the “wealth of the mind;” 2-Obedience. These two things really lie hand in hand—it requires a rejection of our own thoughts in order to offer obedience. We see this perfectly demonstrated in St. John the Baptist, whose memory we celebrate today. His thoughts told him not to baptize Jesus; it made no sense to him for a sinful man to baptize the Messiah. But when Christ told him that he must, St. John put aside his own thoughts and submitted himself in obedience to baptize Jesus. The path to humility requires a rejection of our own thoughts. We have to realize that the way of Christ is the only way, and that our ideas about how life should be will only lead us to death. Our thoughts should be entirely concerned with Christ—fill your mind with the services of the Church, with the words of the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Father, and most especially, prayer. Constantly turn away from the temptation to follow your own path, perhaps even using this morning’s parable to help remind yourself that God’s way is the only path that leads to life. And the path to humility always requires obedience. As people in the world, and not in the monastery, we don’t have an abbot to whom we pledge our absolute obedience. But all of the Fathers agree that obedience is necessary if we’re to develop Christ-like humility. Continual practice in submitting our will to the will of another. So how do we practice obedience in the world today? First and foremost, we obey the commandments of the Gospel. In reality, most of us can’t accomplish this, so this gives us a practice of obedience that will last our entire lives. To follow the commandments requires a constant negation of our own thoughts, replacing our mind with the mind of Christ. Also, for those who are married, our abbot (or abbess) is our spouse. Those with children, remember the humility of the Prodigal Son’s Father. It requires a great deal of humility for parents to listen to their children. And finally, all of the events in our day-to-day life come from God. Obedience is to accept and live the life God has given us, and this is a wonderful (though very difficult) road to humility, that places us directly in the way of Christ. In the Garden He asks the Father to let the cup of the Cross pass from Him, but Thy will be done, He also prays, and then He goes to Golgotha to do the work the Father sent Him to do. Constantly, throughout each day, we’re given opportunities to grow in humility. To renounce our own thoughts and our own wills. To place ourselves under our brothers. To place ourselves entirely on the humble path of Christ. May Christ grant us the humility of the Prodigal Son, so that we can weep for our sins with the Publican, and be received into the Heavenly Kingdom as sons of God the Father. Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!