A Selection from Sermons For Sundays
By Very Rev. Protopresbyter Stephen Sedor
Sunday of the Prodigal Son
A Mirror Reflecting God and Man
Have you ever wondered what God is like? Every thinking Christian has tried to fathom the mystery of God. We can get a very excellent picture of what God is like by looking at Jesus Christ, and noting what He is like, for Jesus is God. Besides this, our Lord told us many things about God, and through these we get a portrait of Him.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus tells us what God is like, for we see Him in the goodness, the love, the cure, the forgiveness of the father in the story. But this parable also tells us what man is like, and this is especially important for us to know as we stand before the doors of repentance and the Great Lent. It tells us that in repentance, we must be sorry for our sins, we must leave them behind, and we must come in faith to the arms of our loving Father.
The story of the lost son has been called the most beautiful and meaningful of all the stories in the world. But it is not a story to entertain, it is meant to teach.
Jesus said there was a man who had two sons. The younger one was unhappy at home. He thought he would be happy away from his father, away from the rules and regulations of home, away with his friends with whom he could “live it up” and rejoice. He wanted to taste the world and its joys. One day he asked his father for his share of money from the property, and shortly after the parent gave this to him, he packed his bags and left to a far country. It ached his father’s heart to see him go, but he did not stop him.
In the distant land instead of finding joy and glory, the son found pain and disgrace. He tasted the world’s sweets, but found them bitter. The Scripture says he spent all his money “in riotous living.” When his wealth was gone, his friends were gone, too. To make matters worse, a famine came to the land. The young man began to hunger. He got the lowest job on the social ladder – feeding swine in a field. He wanted to eat the food that was meant for the animals, but even this was denied him.
One day he came to himself, he came to his sense. He sat down and looked at himself. He thought of the father’s farm with its hired servants who had daily bread aplenty. He thought of his foolishness in leaving his father. He got up and said, “I will go to my father and will say to him, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before thee. I am no more worthy to be called thy son: receive me as one of thy hired servants.”
He acted immediately on this good resolve. He turn and began to retrace his steps. He yearned for the father’s forgiveness and acceptance. He wandered what sort of reception he would receive.
When he was still a great distance away, the father saw him. He had been looking down the road day by day. The old man ran to meet his son! He embraced him and kissed him. The son confessed his sin, saying “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in thy sight, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son.” But the father wouldn’t even let him finish. He commanded the servants to bring the finest robe for the son, a ring for his finger, and shoes for his feet. And he ordered the fatted calf to be killed and a feat made for this happy occasion. “For this my son was dead,” he said, “and now is alive; he was lost and has been found.”
The story doesn’t end there. The older son heard the music and asked what happened. He became angry when he found out that the feast was made for the lost son who had come home. He refused to go to the party. He complained to the father that he had never made a feast for him, even though he had always been good and had not squandered his money and honor as the younger son had. But the father lovingly reminded him: “Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead (In sin) and is alive again, he was lost, and is found.”
What a picture of God we have in this story! He is like a Father to us, caring, loving, forgiving. He weeps at our sorrows and laughs with our joys.
What a picture of man we have in this parable! We can recognized ourselves in the narrative. Most of us, one way or another, sooner or later, have followed the trail of the lost son. We have left the home of our Father in Heaven, we have departed from His presence and fellowship, we have squandered the spiritual riches of our Christian faith, and perhaps we have felt the pangs of soul-hunger as we experienced the deceit and emptiness of the riches of this world. But if we have followed the son that far, we can also follow him the way home, too. We can rise, turn away from our sin, confess our unworthiness to God, receive His forgiveness, and then feast on the spiritual banquet He prepares for us in Holy Communion.
But it may be we have not left the fellowship of our Heavenly Father. Perhaps, then, we have fallen into the sin of the older son. He refused to recognize his brother as a brother. He accused him of sin even after the father had forgiven and forgotten the sin. He was angry at his return to fellowship and grace. He didn’t understand his father’s heart. He was guilty of Pharisaism. He couldn’t see the sin of his own life, only the sin of his brother. He had a form of legal righteousness which reminds us very much of the Pharisees who went to the temple to pray and there only praised himself and condemned his neighbor.
To open the doors of repentance, then, we need the key of humility, we need to see ourselves as we really are. And we need the key of a sense of sin, because we will never repent if we feel we have nothing to be sorry for. This parable does teach that. It does teach that “all we like sheep have gone astray,” and that we need to come back into the fellowship of God. And no matter how far we have gone from God, we need not despair, for the Father is patiently and anxiously waiting for us with love and forgiveness.
May God give us the grace to pray today: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee. I am no more worthy to be called Thy child…”