The Orthodox Pages

email: pater@christopherklitou.com 

TALK ON THE PARABLE OF

THE PRODIGAL SON
17th Feb 2011

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Last week I spoke to you about the Parable of the Publican and the Pharisee which we heard on Sunday during the Liturgy and which was the reading that opened the New Season of the Triodion. The message of the Parable was repentance with a warning to beware of the Pharisee’s pride and self assurance and self righteousness and rather to embrace the Publican’s sincere humility with a contrite heart.
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Again the theme is repentance and there are many elements of the story that are similar to the Parable of the Publican and Pharisee. Again there are two people which in this case are two sons who represent mankind, but with the added character of the loving father who patiently awaits for the Prodigal son to return to his bosom.

Over the four years that we have been doing the weekly talks we have not covered all the Parables which is something that we should think of doing as a series of talks in the future. Nevertheless, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is not something new to the talks because we have seen its interpretation every year. The fact is that we have seen its interpretation with so much detail in the previous years that there isn’t much more I can add. I was left with the dilemma of passing it by or just repeating what has already been said many times. In the end I decided it was too important to leave out especially as some of you were not with us in the previous years. Another reason is because we follow the Church’s yearly cycle and just as we hear the readings and hymns in Church every year and have come to know them well it doesn’t mean that we should stop going to Church because we will hear what we already know. We continually need to be reminded of Christ’s teachings especially as it is human nature to be negligent with our spiritual wellbeing. The Parable is part of the preparation needed to enter Great lent with the right frame of mind and reminds us that at the end of our Lenten journey is the eternal homeland where the father eagerly awaits for us with open arms to celebrate with us the feast of the fatted calf.
As I was surfing the internet to find other angles to the Parable that I could maybe use for tonight’s talk, I came across a site which claimed that the title by which the Parable in known is wrong because the word is nowhere to be found in the Parable. This made me laugh a little because the author of the site must have thought that his English translation of the New Testament is flawless and probably the original language in which it was written. So where did the word Prodigal come from. It is from the Latin Prodigalis meaning wasteful. It was probably not used in the translation because its meaning was generally unknown and the translators preferred to translate the meaning rather than the literal word. The word is definitely found in the Greek text. The Greek for Prodigal is άσωτος and in the text it says: “διεσκόρπισε τὴν οὐσίαν αὐτοῦ, ζῶν ἀσώτως.” In the English KJV version it is translated as “wasted his substance with riotous living.” Basically it means the same because riotous living refers to a reckless, wasteful and extravagant disposal of wealth, which is what the word prodigal means. The name for the parable is therefore taken from Latin which was taken from the original Greek Άσωτος Υιός translated as The Prodigal Son. In a language more understandable it would be the “Parable of the Son who recklessly disposed of his wealth.”
That said, Let’s hear the reading and then look at its interpretation.
“The Lord said this parable: A certain man had two sons: And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)
As with last weeks parable we must first identify ourselves with the characters, because one of them is me. Jesus is talking directly to me and he wants me to understand how distant my life is from God. There are three main characters in the story: the father, the eldest son and the youngest son. We cannot be the father because he is God so we must identify ourselves with one of the two sons. The question is which of the two do we most resemble? The one starts off as a rebellious youth but through humility discovers the meaning of love and the other seems to be good and pious but is finally revealed as a false hypocrite. In the Parable Christ brings together the various forms of human wastefulness. We can say that the younger son is a symbol of the visible wastefulness and the older brother is a symbol of the invisible wastefulness. The two sons represent the two basic categories of men: those who want to live without God in their lives and those who want to live a life in God.
The Parable begins with the younger son asking for the share of his inheritance which belongs to him. As with all parables Christ uses human and material imagery, but wants us to understand something far superior and spiritual.
In this case the inheritance is not material wealth like money and land, but spiritual gifts. They are the divine graces which the father has granted us so that we can be like him. It is the image and likeness of God with which we were created with: It is our very existence, the earth which God took and the breathe that he breathed into it, the grace of the Holy Spirit which he placed in us, the spiritual part of our existence with the possibility of growing spiritually and becoming one with God. It is the gifts of wisdom and prudence, the gift of discernment, the blessings we received at Baptism, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual virtues, and above all the gift of our free will. The younger son wants all the gifts which he believes are rightfully his and they are as long as he remains in God, but he wants to enjoy them without any strings attached to God and his divine protection.
By asking for his share of the inheritance what is the Prodigal son actually saying to the father? Under Jewish culture, and in fact under any culture, to demand the inheritance while the father was still alive was a great and callous insult and was tantamount to wishing that the father was dead. A normal human father would have reacted with great anger and disowned the son that showed such contempt, but here we are not dealing with a human father. He is the heavenly father. In him there is no violence, no feelings for revenge, no demands for punishment. He only knows how to love and be merciful. He knows the reasons for the son’s request, he knows that he is seeking freedom and he knows that the son will take his inheritance and leave the paternal home, but he doesn’t try to stop him. He respects the free will he has given all men and will not try to keep anyone by force. He doesn’t want near him people who don’t love him and who think that they don’t need him. He leaves them to mature in their own time, to understand their inadequacy, to test and experience their freedom and then when they realize the errors of the ways to freely return again of their own free will.
The father did as the younger son requested he divided the inheritance and gave him his share to do with it what he chose do to. But one point in the parable seems to escape us when we read it: the Lord said that the father divided unto them his living. He doesn’t say that he only gave the younger son his share but that he gave to both sons what was rightfully theirs. Here we see the theological understanding that the loving Father of all people endows every man with the same spiritual gifts. He gives to all free will, independence and freedom, he gives to all the bodily and spiritual gifts, he gives to all the preconditions to live and exercise their lives and personalities as each feels best – limited only by the boundaries placed by the human rules of our society.
This free choice is symbolized by the two sons; the younger one takes his wealth and leaves for a far away country where he will waste his substance living wastefully and in sin. The parable doesn’t directly tell us what the older brother did, but as the story unfolds it is clear that as the father divided to them what was theirs, that he also took his share, but preferred not to distance himself from the father. He retained the position he had in the family and appeared to be a law-abiding, obedient and hard working son who mindfully continued to live with the father in the same house.
The journey of the younger son is the journey of the fallen man, a journey towards death, to a real hell, because it is a journey of rejection and abandonment of God. It begins from the moment where the younger son asks to leave the paternal home and the presence of his father. And when we say to leave, it doesn’t mean to leave to another place, but to another way of life: to not be under the guardianship of God and without having to observe his commandments, which are life. The younger son believed that he could by himself become a god. He thought he was capable of everything. He made bad use of the divine grace of independence, of the freedom that God granted us so that we can choose a way of life with him or without him.
So the Prodigal Son, the fallen man, gathers everything, the divine graces, the substance of the father, and departs from God’s way of life, from the personal relationship with him and begins a different life without God. The Prodigal Son reaches a distant and strange land far away from God and begins to enjoy life having a ball of a time. This onetime prince living in the seclusion and protection of the palace is dazzled by the bright lights, just as a young lad from England’s rural Peak district would be dazzled by the London night life. What a contrast to the secluded life he had with the father! As the pleasures of this new life begin to take hold of him he believes that this is living and his only interest is to satisfy the desires of his material existence. He is wealthy and his wealth soon attracts others who like parasites are ready to help him spend it.
They introduce him to alcohol, drug abuse, and sexual indiscretion. He now has the flashiest cars and beautiful women by his side. No gift for them is too much for the cardinal pleasures they offer him. One by one his spiritual and bodily graces begin to disappear like a string of pearls that breaks and the precious pearls scatter in all directions. What has happened to the gifts he received from God? His ears no longer hear divine words, but foul language which also his tongue has accustomed to spurting out. His heart becomes the cradle for all kinds of evil and his soul becomes the devil’s playmate. His once beautiful body reeks of carnal sins and his genius of mind has become refined in the ways of evil. By abandoning God, the sinful passions now take his place. These now govern and direct him and he becomes enslaved to them. His substance, the graces which God gave him, are scattered and wasted on the various passions so that he can enjoy the pleasures of sin. But the pleasures are only momentarily and don’t last. As soon as man partakes of these temporary pleasures they are gone and he desires more. The devil doesn’t allow complete fullness and satisfaction so that man does not stop sinning. It is a reward of the demons when man is enslaved to them. It is the death of the soul resulting from the absence of God.
The great life the Prodigal son had, or imagined he had, could not last forever just as it cannot last for ever for every sinner. Sooner or later it will be cut short, either when the money dries out or health problem arise or both. For the Prodigal son his bags full of money became empty rags. His parasite friends disappeared and he found himself alone without money, without food and shelter.
The parable then tells us that after he had squandered everything he had that a great famine befell upon the land and the prodigal son began to be in great want. There was no one to help him because everyone was looking out for their own interest, for their own survival: who was going to pay any attention to this miserable poor lad who was now worst than a beggar, naked like a worm?
In spiritual terms the famine is a spiritual hunger brought about by being deprived of God. All the foods that satisfy the body are like husks that the swine eat if the “Bread of Life” is absent. The body is nourished but the soul dies of starvation and then follows the decay and death of the body. Because the sensual life does not satisfy man, he feels the hunger and the bereavement of being deprived of God and having wasted the divine graces. Nothing remains of the spiritual and divine. His deprivation, his loss, is complete. The Greek word for prodigal as I mentioned earlier means wastefulness and a reckless life, but as a compound word it also means someone who is deprived of salvation ά-σωτος – without salvation. Deprived of God and the relationship with him, deprived of the blessing to love and be loved, his life, his whole nature is black and destitute.
No one can replace the emptiness of God. Without God he is only flesh that decays and dies. He becomes similar to the animals and more rather like the pigs in the story. His life has because a pig’s life, in other words full of passions and unclean. To this he was prompted by the citizens of the country that were far away from God, in other words the demons. To this place is led the man who sees the Lord’s yoke as heavy. He becomes subject to the yoke of the passions and falls to the level of an animal. His glory and his honour which God had granted him have been taken away by the swine.
Where he was once rich and self-sufficient, he now has to find work to survive, but can only find work looking after swine. When Jesus says in the Parable that he looked after swine, he was trying to say that this occupation was the most humiliating of all professions. Firstly we must remember that the Jews were forbidden to eat pork, so for the Jewish nation there was no need for rearing swine. The Gospel story of the man that was possessed by a legion of demons again makes reference to swine. Before they were cast out from the man they asked if they could enter into the nearby herd of swine. Jesus allowed this because as Jews they had no right to rear swine. That is also why the people of that region asked Jesus to depart from them because they knew they had departed from the law and feared he would judge them accordingly. So for the average Jew, rearing a herd of swine was degrading. The Prodigal son did not become a shepherd of sheep like the Patriarchs of Israel were, but a shepherd of greedy, noisy and filthy pigs. No decent Jew would have even considered giving him his daughter in marriage; he was an outcast, unclean like a leper. We can even say that his employer was a gentile, an idol worshipper, who had no laws forbidding him eating juicy pork chops. This shows the Prodigal’s total abandonment of God, the result of his desire to live freely without any attachments to the life he once knew close to God.
How many sinners end up in the same state as the Prodigal son? They might preserve outwardly a good appearance, but internally they are wretched. As the Prodigal son found out, freedom from God means slavery, and every sinner who exercises his freedom without God becomes a slave. A slave to his passions and a slave to the Devil who is now the master the Prodigal son now serves. In a state of spiritual and bodily hunger, the Prodigal son tries to fill his belly with the husks the pigs fed on. He has reached rock bottom and despondency has taken over his very existence. Despondency is a state which the fathers consider the greatest danger for the soul. Someone in this state cannot see anything good or positive and his thoughts become negative and pessimistic. It leads to disbelief in God and brings about a spiritual suicide, a death to the soul.
It is while in this state that the Prodigal Son suddenly came to his senses. He realized and acknowledged his fall from grace; he admitted to himself that the life which he once thought was true life was only a fool’s life and that true life was what he once had in the bosom of his father. This realization of our fall is a precondition for our repentance. Only when we acknowledge our fall from grace and desire to rectify our mistakes can we begin the return journey of repentance. In his wretched condition the Prodigal son accepts that his only salvation is to return to his father and the homeland. He finally understands that his disposition to be at a distance from his father was the counteraction of his carnal nature to not be subject to God and his will. Because he gave in to his self-ruling material and earthly nature, he was enslaved by it and reached as far as hell. Now that he was dead and lost, he begins to understand the cost of his departure and dissociation from God the father. His only salvation is “I will arise and go to my father”. No matter how far he sank into debauchery and a reckless life, no matter that he was living in hell, inside him the image of his father was never ever destroyed. His thirst to return o the father was a leftover of the original way of life he had with love and communion with the father.
The idea of returning probably came to him many times before but he always rejected it because his downfall was not yet complete. But now he realizes that if he doesn’t return he will surely die. As he prepares to return he has to battle with the last remnants of his pride and accept humility. How could he return in his wretched condition, to the house he left in contempt, to the father who he had wished was dead, to the father he knows must have suffered greatly on his departure, to the brother who he envied because he stayed at home and was victorious. How could he return broke without a cent in his pocket, without shoes, without clothing, without a ring on his finger, unrecognizable, changed from the slavery, the hunger, and the scorching sun and very dirty from the filthy swine. Wouldn’t it give opportunity for his brother and neighbours and even the servants to show their superiority, their righteousness? What would they all say? Would he not be an object to be ridiculed? How could he kneel before his ageing father who he didn’t even say goodbye to when he left? And he left like a prince but would be returning like a worm. How could he now drink of the water from the place he once spat? How could he return to the home to which he had now become a complete stranger? These are thought that probably went through his mind because he still didn’t know the full extent of the Father’s forgiving love. He accepted his guilt with self condemnation, but did he have the strength to overcome the humiliation of walking home with his tail between his legs?
As he remembers his father he remembers that he was always loving and compassionate and this gives him the courage to hope for forgiveness. He remembers as the saying goes in Greek “that blood does not turn to water” or more well known in English “blood is thicker than water”. The Prodigal Son begins turning things over in his mind. His father no matter how much he was offended and hurt by his departure would surely not deny his own blood. If he doesn’t want me as his son then at least he will take me in as a servant. Instead of having the son of someone else as his servant, he can have his own son to serve him. I don’t expect, neither ask for his love because I lost that right long ago, all I ask for is a piece of bread from the kitchen. He is ready to accept this humility and thus begins his repentance. The first sign of repentance is humility and this saving humility is what every repenting sinner should feel as he begins his journey of retuning to God. He should consider himself unworthy of the divine gifts. Now having come to his senses he realizes not only how wrong he was about his father, but also how foolish he had been, how naïve and gullible. He learnt that his friends with whom he squandered all his wealth didn’t love him for himself, but for the things that he had, thus earthy or worldly love is a false love that eventually fades and ceases to exist. He paid a heavy price to learn this truth, but it was not in vain because he learnt the meaning of humility which would now help him fight his way out the clutches of despondency.
But what of the father; what has he been doing all this time? He too has been suffering greatly. He was aware of the rebellious character of his son and knew that it was a risk to give him the inheritance, but he also knew that he could not keep him chained at home against his wish. The only way to make his son understand what was good for him was to let him learn through his own experiences. So out of love he allowed him to live according to his own will. The father knew that one day his son would come to his senses and therefore he sat patiently waiting for his return.

As the days and years passed the father never gave up hope and one day sees in the distance the tired and sad figure of what once was his princely son dressed in the finest clothes now almost naked in torn and dirty rags, but he is a loving father, full of compassion and never once did he stop loving his rebellious son who had wished him dead. He is so overcome with joy and love for his son that he doesn’t sit and wait for him to approach. He runs out to meet him and there face to face with his long lost son, he embraces him and smothers him with kisses. The son doesn’t know quite how to handle the situation. His heart is filled with tenderness and at the same time his mind is confused. He knows he is unworthy of such a reception and finds it impossible to respond to his fathers kisses. As soon as his father releases him from the smothering embraces, he falls to the ground in humility and as he had rehearsed in his mind from the moment of his return, he begins confessing, saying: “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.” The son humbles himself renouncing any claims he may have had to be called a son and would have continued with his plea for forgiveness by asking to be accepted back as a hired servant if his father hadn’t cut him short. The father’s joy was so great; his love was so overwhelming that he never once considered punishing his son further than what he had punished himself. He had been to hell and back and he came back a new person, a new son with knowledge of good and evil. This was a time for celebrating. He orders the servants to bring forth the best [first] robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And kill the fatted calf, let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.
With the image of the Father Christ gives up an image of what God is like. No other religion presents God so loving and compassionate: a God who completely respects human freedom and the choices of every man as the primal element of human self-identity. In his loving bosom he chokes the pains of everyone’s apostasy and silently awaits for each to return and when someone returns he wipes out as with a stroke of a pen all his wrongful actions and reinstates him to his former glory.
I said in the beginning that the Prodigal Son represents fallen man thus he represents each and everyone of us, but at the same time so does the older brother which we will analyze in a moment. There is though one significant difference between the Prodigal son and us. The Prodigal didn’t know how his father would receive him, but Christ has already told us the father’s response to him when he arrived in those rags. Before he even got the words out of his mouth, the elder father was running out to greet him. And this is God’s fundamental disposition towards us, his children. Unlike the Prodigal, we can be assured of the Father’s embrace. We know that God hears the prayers of us sinners, we know that God’s love for us is as inexhaustible as God is Himself.
Before we move on to the elder son we need to understand what the robe, the ring, the shoes and the fatted calf represent. They are the spiritual gifts that we received at Baptism. The robe has a double meaning. It is the robe of righteousness that we are dressed with immediately after our Baptism: the spiritual garment of incorruption which we were to preserve spotless and undefiled. The second meaning is a body of immortality. The best robe in the English translations is not totally correct. In Greek it is (την πρώτη στολή) the first robe, which properly interpreted means the first body that Adam had before the fall: an immortal body which is what we will have on our return to Paradise after the Second Coming.
The father re-establishes the prodigal to his original position as a son and dresses him with the original robe, He offers him a ring on his hand which is the betrothal of the future life and the kingdom and is a sign that he begins again his relationship with the heavenly bridegroom. The ring also signifies his reinstatement as a son and heir because rings were worn by free men, by lords and masters, by someone with authority and power and not by servants. The shoes again represent wealth and power because servants had to go barefooted. They also represent the authority to preach the Gospel, because a Christian is he who is of benefit to his neighbour. It is also the power to step upon snakes and scorpions, in other words upon Satan.
The fatted calf is Christ himself who is sacrificed for us and by whom we are nourished through Holy Communion and the celebration is the heavenly banquet we will enjoy for all eternity. St John Chrysostom in his Easter Sermon, describing the joy of Holy Communion says: “The table is fully laden; all of you delight in it. The calf is plenteous, let no one depart hungry. Let everyone enjoy this banquet of faith. Let everyone take pleasure in the wealth of goodness”.
The Parable doesn’t end with music and celebration, but with a hidden warning in the image of the older son. The two sons like the Publican and the Pharisee of last weeks parable represent two completely different kinds of people yet in each we can see elements that are in each of us. The only way to judge which of the two we actually resemble most is in our relationship with our Father which is in heaven and with each and every man who is our brother. Can we love God the Father with all our being and can we receive within us every man without exceptions? This is what will save us.
The younger son reached the point of death, because he wounded and rejected this relationship. He returned to life when he repented, confessed and re-established his relationship with his father. The older son outwardly appeared to have preserved his relationship with the father, but in reality it was non-existent. As it tells us in the Parable, when his brother returned he was in the fields and when he came close to the house and was informed of the great joy in the house he became angry “and would not go in”. If he was a true son of the father, who is all-embracing love, if he was the image of the father then he should have been happy and should have expressed his love also. But he didn’t do it because inside him were passions secretly hiding until a moment when they could manifest themselves. Inside him were the passions of jealousy, of hatred and pride. These confused his spirit and clouded his reasoning. He loved only himself and thought of himself, as did the Pharisee, as righteous, incapable of making a mistake. What was missing in him was humility and love. His father rejoiced at the wellbeing of his son but he was angry and desired that he should be punished; he would have taken great joy so see his father send away his younger brother. Thus in reality he was not in communion with the father, he was not associated with him in any way.
The younger son was saved by his feeling that he still had a father. The older son doesn’t even call him father. His relationship with the father is not based on internal love but on a formality. “Lo, these many years do I serve thee”; he worked the inheritance which was his, but he had no love either for his father or for his brother. He claims that he never disobeyed the father at any time, yet now that the father pleads with him to show love and compassion for his long lost brother he disobeys and refuses to enter the house. He doesn’t even recognize him as a brother, but says “this thy son”. The story shows us that someone can appear to be close to God; he regularly attends Church and boasts that he keeps all that the Church requires of him, but if his relationship with God and his fellow men is not based on love then he doesn’t live according to the image of God. The Church is a community of people that love each other.
At no point in the parable does the older son appear to accept the fact that he made a mistake and then to confess it and receive forgiveness. For everything the father is to blame, because he received back his child, because he killed the fatted calf, because he never ever gave him a kid that he might make merry with his friends. What he doesn’t take into account is that the father never gave him a goat to have a party because he never asked for it or the fact that he never loved the father because he contemplated a party without the inclusion of the father.
He smears his brother’s name by pointing out that he had devoured his living with harlots, he was not interested in his brother’s wellbeing but in the waste of wealth which wasn’t even his. He humiliates and dishonours his brother to show his own superiority and excellence. He self-excluded himself from the father’s paradise of love because he had no love. he remained without salvation and became himself prodigal, because he didn’t “come to himself” that is, he didn’t come to his senses.
The elder son represents all those who have never left home, in other words those who have always been close to the Church and who have never transgressed at any time the commandments. They keep the fasts and everything the Church requires of them, in other words they appear externally as good Christians, very much like the Pharisee who appeared as a good Jew. They believe that they are righteous and better than other people, but their true self, hidden until now, appears when they see a sinner, who they know has led a wicked life, return to the bosom of the Church and be accepted on an equal level as themselves. They see the grace of the Holy Spirit shine brighter in them than in themselves and are overcome with envy. They cannot understand why after all those years of devoting themselves to the Church with prayer and fastings, they shouldn’t shine brighter.
Thus Christ is giving us a warning, “If you have never left the house, always did what you were told, and stood fast by the father, don't be like the elder brother.” The kingdom of heaven is about love that surpasses all understanding and if we do not have the compassion and love of the Father then we have no place in our father’s house. If we have this Christ-like love then we would welcome and embrace every stranger, every returning prodigal who has sought to return to the bosom of the father. This should fill our hearts with joy and make us want to celebrate as did the father and the angels of heaven. It does not matter if someone was once a member of the house who left and committed the gravest sins, he has now repented and returned from a far county as a re-born person. It does not matter what race or colour they are, whether cradle or convert, rich or poor – what matters is that they have given up everything to find eternal salvation in the bosom of the father. Thus in an indirect way the parable says beware! Don’t come so far in your spiritual journey only to allow the sin of pride to hold you back.
The story of the Prodigal Son is an 'exact icon of repentance', inasmuch as through it we see the reality of repentance as it must be lived in our own lives. Before telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Christ mentioned the Parable of how the Good Shepherd leaves the ninety nine sheep in the wilderness to go and look for the one which is lost and searches until he finds it. He tells us that the Good Shepherd, the God who we serve and love doesn’t remain idle when we have lost our way, but is out there searching for us, but now with this parable of the Prodigal Son he is telling us that we also must take a few steps in his direction. How will he find us if we keep silent? Let us cry like the sheep so that our cry will lead him to us.
As we approach Great lent, let us prepare for our long journey home, confessing in our hearts and on our lips that we “have sinned against Heaven and before the face” of our Father. Let us beg God to receive us not as we deserve, but according to the greatness of His love and the multitude of His mercies. Although we are no longer worthy to be called the sons and daughters of God, let us trust the words of Christ our Saviour, when he says “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). When our return trip from the “far country” comes to an end, may we too see our God and Father run to meet us, throw His arms around our shoulders, and kiss us, calling out to His holy angels: “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet, and bring the fatted calf and kill it… for this, my son, was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found!” Amen