Kontakion (Tone 3)
I have recklessly forgotten Your glory, O Father;
And among sinners I have scattered the riches which You had given me. . .
The Fathers of the Church chose the parables of these Sundays before Lent to help us to continue our resolve to live truly as Christians.
The stories of Zacchaeus, the Pharisee, and today, the Prodigal Son, demonstrate how enduring (and just ordinary) the struggles are that we face, daily, when we consciously try to live in a way that’s like Christ. These parables not only suggest that the fundamental urge to be selfish and envious of the next guy is a common human trait, but also, that it is just as human to be able to overcome it within ourselves.
We have a choice. And, we have to make this choice over and over again.
The Prodigal Son is among the most famous of parables. Perhaps it’s because it illuminates such astonishing generosity. Surely the father’s tender embrace of his disloyal son foreshadows the crucified Christ’s forgiveness of his killers?
This story is positioned to inspire us with hope and comfort as we approach the Lenten focus on repentance. The meaning is familiar and applies to each one of us: no matter how much we’ve messed up, as it were, we will be welcome, when we find our way back home. Yes!
But do we relate to the young man who squandered his inheritance? How many of us even have an inheritance nowadays? Ok, we know that the prodigal’s extreme despair, hunger, self-loathing, emptiness, represents anyone of us—me, you—when we turn away from God. Coming to God means nothing other than love, peace, and joyfulness: home. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are part of the Church community, possibly not contemplating a getaway to a life of iniquity! Probably doing your best to live as a decent citizen.
Significantly, today’s parable also portrays the older brother: loyal, hard-working, supporting the family business; no wine, women, and song for him! It’s not too difficult to imagine why he was less than thrilled at the royal treatment his brother received. He was resentful, bitter, hurt. Not only is he feeling second-best, but he’s expected to cheer on his little brother who had given the family so much grief.
This is a tall order—but one, we are told, we can fill. We CAN rejoice for another. We can practice a selflessness that connects us in love to share another person’s good fortune. The older brother is invited to celebrate: to come home. Despite his physical presence working on the farm, living with the father, the older son too was close to squandering his share of the inheritance. Like the Pharisee, and the crowds surrounding Zacchaeus, this son did the right things, but without the love that takes us beyond our own self-interest into a connection with others where we can delight in each other’s good fortune.
Each figure in today’s parable can enrich our being. We know God through each other, so let’s strive to recognize the goodness around us and be grateful (as children), and like the father, make each other feel at home with us: acknowledged, celebrated, where no one can feel condemned for their shortcomings or unappreciated for their presence. When we can feel that we belong together, we can feel the warmth of God’s welcoming embrace, and our joy multiplies!