1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Luke 15:11-32
As we continue our preparation to follow Christ to His Cross and empty tomb during Lent, the Parable of the Prodigal Son reminds us today of the nature of true repentance. This story shows who God is and who we are as His beloved children, even though we have made ourselves and others miserable due to serving our own self-centered and foolish desires, which often make us barely recognizable as bearers of the divine image and likeness. The parable calls us never to fall into despair, for we can still wake up from our delusions and return to our Father, Who wants nothing more than for His sons and daughters to accept their true relationship with Him.
The younger son rejected his relationship with his father, for he treated him simply as a source of money for funding a decadent way of life. He did not relate to his father as a beloved person, but simply as a source of money whom he wished were already dead so that he could get his inheritance. That was the very worst insult that he could possibly have given the old man. The prodigal son rejected his family so that he could live as an isolated individual who was free to indulge his passions however he saw fit with no responsibilities toward anyone. Once he burned through the cash, however, he faced the harsh realities of being a stranger in a strange land during a famine. He had no one to help him and sunk so low that he envied the food of the pigs he tended. The young man had fallen into a truly depraved state.
In the midst of his misery, he finally came to himself and realized that he would be better off as a servant in his father’s house, where there was bread to spare, than in a pig pen starving to death. He recognized how he had broken his relationship with his father and no longer had any claim to be his son; he hoped merely to become one of the hired servants. Reality had slapped him in the face to the point that his spiritual vision had clarified. He finally understood the shameful gravity of what he had done. Then he began the long journey home in humility.
That is when the young man got the greatest shock of his life. In ways that contracted all the assumptions of that culture, the father ran out to hug and kiss the son who had so shamefully repudiated him. The old man must have scanned the horizon every day in hope of his son’s return. Despite the son’s terrible behavior, he did not even consider receiving him as a servant, but said, “‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’” The party began, but the older son was offended by the injustice of the celebration, as he claimed to have always obeyed his father and was never given a party. This fellow missed the point of the father’s joy, for “It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
In preparing for Lent, we must remember that our life in Christ has nothing to do with getting what we deserve for our behavior, but concerns entering by grace into the joy of the Savior’s victory over sin and death through His glorious resurrection. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:23) Each of us is the prodigal son, for like him we have chosen to live as isolated individuals serving our self-centered desires for pleasure. It does not matter what we have put before God, for if we put love for anything before Him we become slaves to our passions in ways that inevitably hinder us from embracing the joy that is ours as “partakers of the divine nature.” The passing pleasures that the prodigal son sought were base and brought him into obvious misery. It does not take much spiritual insight to see that gravely insulting his father and wasting his inheritance on prostitutes was deplorable. Our addictions to being right, receiving the approval of others, getting our own way, and making ourselves the judges of other people’s hearts are equally dangerous, if not more so due to their subtlety. And if we have the self-righteous attitude of the older brother toward our neighbors, then we are simply showing our slavery to vainglory by wanting our virtues to be recognized, even to point of becoming blind to the great joy of the restoration of a beloved child of God.
The father restored the prodigal son by clothing him in a fine robe, shoes, and a ring. The young man had surely been half-naked in stinking, filthy rags during his journey home. Adam and Eve had stripped themselves naked of the divine glory when they put gratifying their own desires before obedience to God. In baptism, we receive the robe of light they rejected as we put on Christ like a garment, but still we refuse to live each day as those who have been restored as the beloved children of God. Even though we participate in the banquet of the Eucharist, nourished by the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God Who takes way the sin of the world, we do not live each day as those who are in communion with Christ as members of His own Body, the Church. Like the prodigal son, we so often act as isolated and anonymous individuals who serve only the self-centered desires that have taken our hearts captive. Like him, we obscure the distinctive beauty of our souls when we act more like isolated bundles of inflamed passion than as beloved children of our Father.
As we follow our Lord to His Cross and empty tomb in Lent, we must come to ourselves and take the long journey home. Like the prodigal, we must not allow fear of rejection to deter us. Like the father in the parable, God is not a vengeful tyrant or a strict dispenser of justice. “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8) and constantly reaches out to us, calling us to accept restoration as His sons and daughters. All He asks is that we repent by offering ourselves for the joy of the Heavenly Kingdom. With King David, we must pray, “Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; according to Your mercy remember me, for Your goodness’ sake, O Lord.” (Ps. 24) “A contrite and humble heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Ps. 50)
In today’s epistle reading, Saint Paul addressed a grave problem among the Gentle Christians of Corinth. Because they followed the sensibilities of pagan culture in thinking that how they behaved sexually was spiritually irrelevant, he reminded them that the body is holy in light of Christ’s bodily resurrection. As members of His Body and living temples of the Holy Spirit, they must live accordingly. Whether in Corinth or today, the intimate union of husband and wife as “one flesh” remains the only sexual relationship and marital bond blessed by the Lord as a sign of His Kingdom and of His relationship with the Church. No matter what our temptations may be, we must all struggle in humility in order to live faithfully as the men and women God created us to be. Even as the father restored the prodigal son after wasting his inheritance on prostitutes, God’s healing mercy extends to sexual sins of whatever form and enables a purity of heart that permeates every dimension of our lives and strengthens us to live in accordance with His gracious purposes for our salvation. We must not let the hurt pride called shame about sexual or any other type of sin keep us from taking the journey home back to our Father. We must also refuse to become so consumed by cultural trends or political debates that we become blind to the grave spiritual consequences of participating in any form of intimacy other than the “one flesh” union of husband and wife, as blessed by the Lord.
The coming Lenten season calls us all to come to ourselves as we gain a clearer recognition of the ways in which we have refused to live as the beloved sons and daughters of our Father. By humbly reorienting our lives toward Him and away from slavery to our passions, we will find restoration, blessing, and joy. Now is the time to leave behind the filth and misery of the pig pen and to enter by grace into the joy of a heavenly banquet that none of us deserves.