The Lord said this parable: “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father.

Luke 15:11-20

I once heard a sermon where the priest said if a person was stranded on a deserted island and had only one piece of Scripture to meditate on, the story of the Prodigal Son would be that passage. In fact this parable summarizes the whole purpose of the Lenten journey, which is to find the way back home to the Father. In this story, we read of the benevolence of the Father, the sinfulness of the son, the consciousness of repentance and the restoration made possible when we repent. Over the next two reflections, we will discuss this parable.

First, there is the father. He has two sons. He does not favor one over the other, because when the younger son comes and asks for his share of the property, the father divides his living between the two. He does not chastise the son for asking for his inheritance early. He doesn’t stop him from leaving. He doesn’t chase after him when he goes far away. And he doesn’t go and intervene when the son wastes all of his hard-earned money. He never steps in the way of his younger son’s freedom. He never compromises the younger son’s free will.

Next we have the younger son. He selfishly asks the father for his share of the inheritance that will fall to him when he dies. He basically is saying to his father “You are dead to me.” Because he has what he is going to receive from his father after he dies, he leaves most likely without the intention of coming back. There will be nothing to come back for. He goes to another country and squanders the property in loose living.

We’ve all seen stories on TV and in the movies of people who have come into a lot of money and start living the “high life,” they don’t budget, they don’t pace themselves. They try to impress everyone with fancy cars, fancy clothes, buying rounds of drinks at the bar, etc. The son was doing the equivalent of this two thousand years ago. When someone throws around money, they garner attention and lots of new “friends” who want to get in on the largesse.

And as often happens, the money ran out quickly. All of the inheritance was gone. And all of the new “friends” disappeared. The younger son had a problem. He had no money, no friends, and no means of support. He didn’t even have any food. The best he could do was join himself to a citizen of this faraway country, basically as an indentured servant. He would trade his freedom for sustenance. The new boss sent him out into the fields to feed swine. His life had sunk so low that he was glad to eat the food of the pigs.

Alone. Destitute. Hungry. Hopeless. This was the situation the younger son found himself in. Or rather, the consequences of the situation he caused. There is a distinct difference. When something bad happens that is not of our own doing, we find ourselves in a tough situation. This was not that. The younger son actually caused this situation to happen. He had no one to blame but himself.

The story now takes a critical turn. The younger son has a moment of clarity. In the midst of his sorrow, he finds one glimmer of hope. He remembers his father. He remembers his home. And he remembers that father is not the shrewd manager like the one he works for, leaving him to eat the food of the pigs. He remembers that his father’s servants have enough bread and to spare. He decides to return to the father and ask to be treated as a hired servant. He will not ask for restoration as a son, but to be treated like a servant.

Many of us relate to the Prodigal Son. Some of us are actually in messes that we have caused. Some of us have estranged ourselves from God our Father. Some of us have wasted our talents, or lots of our time. Some are engaging in loose living. Some have forgotten the Father. Some, like the younger son, despise the Father. Some of us feel spiritually alone, destitute, hungry, hopeless. And some of us who feel this way seem to be resigned to sitting with the pigs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have a loving Father, God, who is ready to embrace us, to forgive us, to restore us. However, like the father in the parable, God is not going to hunt us down, or take away our free will by imposing on us to return to Him. What is needed is a moment of spiritual clarity, a coming to ourselves moment, to realize that we can do better.

Some of us who have fallen away remember God, remember the feeling of wholesomeness when we are in sync with Him. If you are away from God right now, bring to mind some of those memories of the time you were close together with Him, and make the journey back. He is waiting to welcome you with open arms.

Some of us have no memory of God, we’ve never had a close relationship. If this is you, seek out someone who has the close relationship and open your heart to hearing about how blessed it can be to live a life with Him.

Have mercy on me, O God. Have mercy on me.
O Lover of Mankind, who desires that all men shall be saved, in Your goodness call me back and accept me in repentance.
(Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, Ode One, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)

At some point, we will all relate to the younger son. The turning point for him was the moment he came to himself and realized “I can do better than this with my father.” This moment may occur multiple times in our lives. In some small way we leave the father each time we sin. Each time we feel like the younger son, there is always a way back, but it starts with our own realization that we can do better when we are with our Father.