Equality may not be what you think it is.

Homily 584 – 39 APE
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 3, 2024
Epistle – (135) 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Gospel – (79) Luke 15:11-32

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The Sundays before Great Lent begin are called the Lenten Triodion.  This is named not because there are three Sundays.  In fact, there are four Sundays in the triodion.

No, it is called the Triodion because during these weeks, at Matins, sometimes called Orthros, there are only three odes of the Canon which are read.  Normally, a Canon has 9 odes.  So already the Church is telling us to get ready as something different is about to happen.

We have four Sundays, as I said, beginning with the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee.  And today, the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.  Next week, the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and finally, the Sunday before Great Lent begins, the Sunday of the Last Judgment.

When we look at the first two Sundays of the Triodion, with the two parables, we are confronted with ourselves.  Last week, perhaps we saw ourselves in the Pharisee.  This week, though, we may see ourselves in both of the main characters.

The prodigal takes his inheritance from the Father, and goes off to live a life outside of the influence of his family.  He squandered his inheritance, and lived as the Gospel says, “immorally.”

He was what we might call, “the life of the party.”  The one everyone wanted to be around – funloving, ready to party, with the resources to back it up.  Until the resources were gone.  Maybe we’ve known these people.  Maybe we were, or even are, these people.

And before we quickly dismiss the younger brother by saying that doesn’t happen today, take a good look around.  How many people, on social media, or that we may know, have taken leave from their families, and converted a van or SUV, or bought a sailboat, determined to seek adventure around the world?  Isn’t that exactly what this younger brother did?

He didn’t like the monotony of farm life.  He didn’t like working in the fields.  He thirsted for adventure, for something new, something that would touch something inside him that would register as “fun” or “enjoyable.”  There are whole categories of videos and social media about these people.  So we dismiss them at our peril.  They are doing exactly what the younger brother did.  Living perhaps more morally than he did.  But leaving home to find themselves, to find adventure.

Contrast that with the second character, that of the elder brother who stayed at his father’s side, working diligently, asking for nothing.  Maybe we behaved like this one, ready to do “the right thing.”

What puts them in opposition is the same thing, though.  The fathers of the Church call it pride.  Selfishness, ego.

The younger comes to his senses, and returns home intending to be not his father’s son, but his father’s hired hand.  He comes home in shame and remorse.  He recognizes his selfishness – and he repents.  He changes his situation.

The elder brother on the other hand has nothing to repent from.  He has been living a model life.  Never asking for anything.  But when the brother comes home and he sees the reception given by the father to the younger, something inside snaps.

He begins to stew.  He is angry.  And why?

Because he has been treated differently.  He focuses on himself, and how he was treated.  It is obvious that the younger and elder sons are in fact treated differently.  The father acknowledges that fact.

But the challenge to the elder brother is to look outside himself.  To rejoice because the brother is found.  Resurrected, even!

So in one story, we can identify, perhaps, with both brothers.  Maybe we have or need to come to our senses and repent.  And maybe we need to rejoice that the one who was as good as dead is now alive.

We aren’t being treated the same.

Maybe what God is illustrating here is a different understanding of equality.  Is God’s equality different than ours?

Let’s look at example, which may explain it better.  If I drive a Ford Mustang GT350, my engine requires 10 quarts of oil.  If I drive a Ford Fiesta, it takes 4.2 quarts of oil.

If I give them the same amount – one will have too much or one will have too little oil.  It won’t run right.  There is a high risk of engine damage.  So, I treat them the same by giving them not the same amount, but rather exactly what each of them needs.

We too have different needs.  Will we learn to look not at what God gives to others, but what he gives to us?  Why the competition?  It is ingrained into the American psyche at least from birth.  Or at least grade school.

Somehow we get the idea that the blessings of others come at our expense.  But we don’t know their sorrow.  We don’t know their need.  We don’t know their hunger, their loneliness, their grief.

The Church gives us this Sunday to remind us, as we go into Lent, that our salvation, our discipline, is not a competition.  It truly isn’t.  And I encourage all of us to think about that during today and the upcoming week.

Observe yourself, keep a count of how frequently you see someone who is “more successful” or is given a “bigger break” than you.  Just count.  How frequently are we angry that someone cuts us off in traffic, or takes the parking space we were targeting.

And when you reflect on that count, think how different your life would be if you received what they did.  Chances are, the differences are insignificant.  They might even be harmful.

Because an overabundance is just as dangerous as a shortage.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.