Note: the Scriptural texts can be found at the end.
Homily 297 – 35th Sunday after Pentecost (Prodigal Son)
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
February 4, 2018
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
It was a perfect plan. What could go wrong?
To take what he was entitled to, and get out from under his father’s shadow. To strike out on his own. To get away from this two-bit farm, and away from his family.
That is what the Prodigal thought, most likely. Sounds familiar. The parable is just as applicable today as it was in the time when our Lord first told it.
And why wouldn’t we want to strike out on our own? Independence is good, right? Self-sufficiency is the American Dream, right?
Sadly, humanity has never been self-sufficient.
We may be able to tend and harvest, but we cannot create the seed. We can genetically modify it – but not create it.
We can hunt, but cannot create the game. We can fish, but cannot create the sea nor the creatures dwelling in it.
We are not self-sufficient. We may tend, and we may harvest, but it is God that gives growth. We cannot reverse famine. We cannot reverse what the insurance industry calls “Acts of God.”
No amount of wealth will help when there is no food to buy.
Having said all that, however, the prodigal was not breaking any commandment or law when he asked for his portion of the inheritance and left.
What he did was ill advised – not illegal. That is what St. Paul addresses in his letter.
The desire for independence is not wrong. However, that desire isn’t helpful. It isn’t beneficial.
Independence, as the Prodigal discovers, leads to dependence. And that dependence is not on God, but on strangers.
The Prodigal was, in the words of St. Paul, brought under the power of independence. Became subjected to it. And in the end, lost it.
The account tells us that the Prodigal lived immorally. And squandered his belongings as a result.
That is the one area where he did sin. And St. Paul reminds us, it isn’t as much about the disobedience to God, but rather the sin of immorality, particularly sexual immorality, is against ourself.
It harms us, in ways we don’t understand. And in a few ways we do understand.
We are relational creatures. Humans are designed to live in societies – and with God.
The strongest punishment we can inflict, short of death itself, is exile. To be cast out, alone. No one to be in a relationship with.
Socrates famously said “I think, therefore I am.” But that isn’t quite it. More like “I love, therefore I am.”
And to love requires an object – another – whom we can love.
We have heard time and again the admonition of God – the greatest commandment is to love God, and to love our neighbor.
Sexual immorality is not love. It objectifies the other person involved. And loving an object is not love at all, but rather idolatry.
St. Paul tells us that love is not found in obedience to a law. It is found in obedience to the relationships we have.
It isn’t that the things we do are unlawful. It is that they do not benefit us – they do not benefit others –
They do not benefit relationship.
Oh, that the Prodigal had the advice of St. Paul! But he didn’t. He made a different choice.
And, in the midst of his poverty and destitution and desperation – he realized something. He came to his senses.
He recognized that the path he chose was not beneficial for him. In fact, it was harmful, and his state was worse than the hired hands on the farm, who at least had food to eat and shelter from the elements.
The Prodigal also knew that his father would likely not forgive him. That relationship, in the Prodigal’s mind, was irreparably broken. But – perhaps the father would simply hire him on as a worker?
So he set out. For home. And learned a great truth. The relationship was still there. It was never broken. It was perhaps injured, but not destroyed.
He was welcomed as the son he truly was – no longer holding an inheritance, perhaps – but still a son. Still in a relationship.
And so too are we still in a relationship. Regardless of what we do. God waits for our return to Him. He waits to greet us as the long lost son returned to life.
Because the love of the Father never fails.
So we begin in a couple of weeks Great Lent and the preparation for Pascha. But remember – it isn’t about fasting, it isn’t about abiding under a set of laws.
It is about the restoration of relationship with our Father. He doesn’t hold our rebellion against us. He welcomes us home, to a new life in His Kingdom.
If we will but return to Him.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
Epistle: (135) – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Brothers and sisters, You say: “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be brought under the power of anything. “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food,” but God will bring to nothing both of these. However, the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is made for the body. Now God raised up the Lord, and he will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that whoever is joined to a prostitute is one body? For God says, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin that a person can do is outside the body,” but whoever commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit which dwells in you, and which you have from God? You are not your own! You were bought with a price! Therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which belong to God.
Gospel: (79) – Luke 15:11-32
The Lord said this parable, “A certain man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that will come to me.’ So the father divided his livelihood between them. A few days later, the younger son gathered all that he had and traveled to a far country. There, he squandered his property, living immorally. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. He went and hired himself to one of the citizens of that country who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He wanted to feed himself with the husks that the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare, and I am dying with hunger! I will get up, go to my father, and tell him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son! Make me as one of your hired servants.”’
So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still at a distance, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. He ran, and embraced his son, and kissed him. Then the son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you! I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father said to his slaves, ‘Bring out the first robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his hand and shoes on his feet! Bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this, my son, was dead, and he is alive again! He was lost and now he is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
Now his elder son was in the field. As he came near to the house, he heard music and dancing. Calling one of the servants, he asked what was going on. The servant replied, ‘Your brother has returned! Your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and healthy.’
However, the elder son became angry and he would not go in. Therefore, his father came out and begged him. But he answered his father, ‘Look, for so many years I have served you, and I have never disobeyed a commandment of yours. Yet, you never gave me a goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this, your son, arrived, he who has devoured your living with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’
The father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours! But it was fitting to celebrate and to rejoice, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and is found!’”