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!

This morning we hear on of the most popular and well-known parables of our Lord – the Parable of the Prodigal Son. There are many different ways to approach this parable; many different benefits for our spiritual lives are contained in these words of our Lord. I want to continue with what has been our theme this pre-Lenten season: preparation. As part of our preparation for Great Lent and Holy Pascha, we’ll look at this parable as the story of our lives, what it reminds us of, and what it calls us to consider.

At the beginning of this parable, the Prodigal Son decides to leave home. He takes his inheritance, and he leaves his father’s house. We can guess that this young man had a lot going for him – he was raised in a house of privilege, he had money, he had some degree of intelligence and ability. We find that he’s able to make it on his own. He’s able to survive, for some time, outside of his father’s house. But with no one to oversee him, or to help him, or to offer him advice, eventually he wastes everything that his father had given him. He finds himself basically destitute – his friends all leave him, he’s out of money, he has nowhere to live, not even any food to eat. And before we get to the point in the parable when he comes to his senses and decides to return to the house of his father, he’s feeding pigs, and even willing to eat the food that goes to the pigs. He’s been totally humiliated – he’s lost everything on his own, and he’s doing a job with animals that the Jews weren’t allowed to have any contact with. Eventually – we don’t know how long he was too proud to return to his father and stayed destitute and humiliated and feeding pigs – he gets up and returns to the house of his father. He’s realized that even the servants in his father’s house have it better than he does. That’s saying a lot, servants were a very low class of citizen; their lives were virtually entirely under the control of their master. So to basically be a slave was better than the life of this Prodigal Son. He returns to his father’s house, and the greeting he receives is beyond his wildest expectation. His father is watching for him, waiting to see if his son would come home. And the father runs down the road to meet him, and hugs him and kisses him, and won’t even listen to what the son has to say. The Prodigal Son is restored in the house to his former place – he’s given the best robe and a ring and sandals, and a feast is prepared to celebrate his return.

Now to how we can think about this parable right now: The Prodigal Son in the parable can very easily been seen as us; and the father, of course, is God. According to the Scriptures, we’re all prodigals. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Father’s house, the place we’ve left by our prodigal activity, is our relationship with God. Again, to use the language of the Scriptures and the Fathers of our Church, to sin is to turn our backs on God. We move away from God, we separate ourselves from Him, by our sin.

Some of us experience very long periods in our lives of prodigal behaviour. We just do whatever we want, and we don’t think too much about God or our faith or eternity. Many people today, even those raised in the Church, we’ll experience times of prolonged prodigal living. And then sometimes we have shorter periods – vacations, times of hardship or struggle, stressful times – periods when we really should be focusing more intently on Christ, but we sometimes tend to turn away and to manage our own affairs the way we want to with very little or no reference to God. And we all sin, so on a daily basis we experience times of being the prodigal, no matter how brief these moments may be.

When we’re separated from God by our sins, we’re like the Prodigal Son feeding the swine. We’re in a place we shouldn’t be, a place we never should have been. And sometimes we’re eager to get up, and to return to God. Other times we’re quite happy, sometimes for long periods of time, to stay in that sin – the image of feeding the swine – we stay in the filth and the mud and the stench of our sins. But by the grace of God, when we see the pitiful state we’ve fallen to, we have the desire to return home, to be re-united with Christ.

The Prodigal realizes that even slaves are better of than he is. In the language of St. Paul, our only choice in the world is slavery – we’re enslaved to sin and death, or we’re the slaves of Christ. The greatest freedom, the Father’s teach, is in slavery to Christ. Where we give ourselves no choice other than the will of God. In Christ, we’re free to be what we were created to be – there’s no slavery to sin, addiction, habit, death. The Prodigal was stuck feeding swine, but he was always free to return to his Father’s house. And his father received him with open arms; no questions, no excuses were allowed, only unconditional love and forgiveness.

Our return to God from sin and prodigal living is the same. God receives us as we are, as long as we turn our back on our sin. There’s no need to offer excuses, no need to beat ourselves up over our faults and our failures – we repent, we return to God and we change our lives, we desire something different, and God rushes out to receive us home and to forgive us. The Prodigal had no desire to return to feeding the swine; the pull of his life in the world was probably still something he had to struggle with. But all he had to do was remember where that led, to feeding pigs and starving, and the temptation to return would disappear.

In preparation this week for Great and Holy Lent, we can examine our lives in the light of this parable. Are we living as prodigals? Are we stuck out there in the pig pen, in a long period of turning our backs on the will of God? Are we repenting daily for the sins we commit? Many of our daily prayers remind us that sin almost constantly – in thought, word, and need, even without consciously knowing some of the sins we do. How are we dealing with our prodigal activity? These thoughts, meditating on this and examining our lives carefully to see where we are and how we’re behaving right now, helps prepare us for Lent because we get a better idea of where we are, where our weaknesses and struggles are, and how we need to focus our energy and our prayer during the Great Fast. Always remember that God is love – He’s waiting with outstretched arms, watching to see us even from far way, to rush out and meet us with His mercy and His forgiveness. So the question is – are we willing to get up out of our sins and accept the forgiveness and the love of God?

We’ll end with words of one of the sticharion from Lord I Call from Vespers last night:
What great blessings have I forsaken, wretch that I am? From what kingdom have I miserably fallen? I have squandered the riches that were given me; I have transgressed the commandments. Woe to me when I shall be condemned to eternal fire! Cry out to Christ, O my soul, before the end draws nigh: “Receive me as the Prodigal, O God, and have mercy on me!”

Glory to Jesus Christ! Glory forever!