On this third Sunday of preparation for Lent, we read the story of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-32. This Sunday's theme, as was last week on the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee, is repentance.
Jesus tells the parable of a man with two sons. The youngest son asks for his inheritance, leaves home and squanders it away. He is left with nothing and nowhere to go. Finding a job feeding swine and still finding himself hungry, he realizes that his father's hired servants always had enough to eat. He decides to go home and ask his father for a job. But upon his arrival, his father welcomes him and chooses to celebrate saying, "For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (vv. 20-24). They have a feast! The older son, coming in from working that day wonders what the celebration is for and becomes resentful upon learning it is for his brother. He has been ever faithful to his father and his father has never given him such a celebration. Yet this brother, who squandered all he was given is honored with a lavish feast! The father says to his angry son, "You are always with me, and all that I have is yours," but explains that his brother is cause for celebration as "your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found" (vv. 31-32)
The parable demonstrates that repentance is a man's return from exile. Alexander Schmemann writes in Great Lent: Journey to Pashca "A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly "at home" in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance." The prodigal son felt his exile. He was enslaved to strangers and hunger. He returned back, repentant, to his father's home, admitting his sin.
This parable offers hope to those who have fallen into despair with their sinful ways. It allows us to see that we must recognize and admit to our own sinful ways and return to God through repentance. Just as the father of the prodigal son hoped and waited for the return of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father is patiently waiting our return to Him.
I think we can look at this parable in two ways. The obvious one is described above- that of repentance and the need to repent of our own sins. But I also see forgiveness being taught here...do you?
As much as we are the prodigal sons of God who must look into our souls and see the sin there and repent of it- we must also look around at the prodigals around us - AND FORGIVE THEM. Just as the father took his son in and celebrated with a big feast- we must recognize the prodigals around us and take them in. They may not always be as recognizable as the prodigal son who came home, homeless, hungry and shamed. That doesn't release us of our need to forgive them. It is not up to us to determine if someone is truly repentant or not. It is up to us to forgive them. For in our inability, or rather stubbornness, to do so, we are also being sinful. And then it goes around again- we must be repentant of our sinful nature to hold grudges, anger and resentment.
So take this opportunity as Lent approaches. Look into your heart. What sins must you overcome? Is there someone you need to forgive? Or someone you must ask forgiveness of?
Kontakion: (Tone 3)
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants.
Sources and Related Resources:
Great Lent: Journey to Pascha
The Second Sunday of the Triodion Period: The Sunday of the Prodigal Son
The Repentance of the Prodigal
*Note: The above book, Engaging Today's Prodigal, is NOT an Orthodox source. However, this reader did find much benefit in its contents and would recommend it highly.