Learning from the Prodigal…and his brother
Subdeacon Richard Mity Ajalat
When we are entering Great Lent, what do we think of? This year I thought of the parable of the prodigal son and how the son came home to his father and the father accepted him back completely.
We know the story of the prodigal son. The youngest son comes to the father and says, “I want my inheritance and I want it now.” The father divides up his estate and gives his younger son his share of the inheritance. The young son leaves and squanders the money on partying with his “friends”, and lavish and sinful living. Soon his money has disappeared, his friends have left him, and he is alone, broke, and broken. He is homeless, scrounging for food. He is hungry and homesick and just wants to get back to his father. He travels to his father’s house, hoping that his father will hire him as a servant.
As the youngest son draws near to the house, the father sees him in the distance and runs to him with his arms wide open. The son tries to talk and explain but the father is so joyous that he kills the fatted calf and has a big party to celebrate and welcome his son home. This illustrates the perfect love, the agape love, that our Father has for us. In this parable, Christ is illustrating God’s love for us (as well as God’s forgiveness).
Later that evening, the oldest brother comes home and asks a servant what is going on. He becomes so angry that he will not even enter the house, so his father comes out to talk to him. The father says, “What is wrong? Your brother was dead, and now he is alive. We rejoice that he has come home to us.” The older son says, “But he abandoned us and spent all your money, and now you throw him a party?” The father cuts him off saying, “All that I have is yours, and you have been faithful and helpful to me, but we rejoice that your brother has come back.” The older son, in contrast to the father, cannot achieve perfect love. He wants to blame and scold his brother, and make him pay for his foolishness.
Our Church calls this the parable of the Prodigal Son, but really, Christ wants us to be like both sons. We should be like the younger son in that we realize our mistakes and desire to be forgiven. No matter how bad our sins, we will not be rejected but will be joyously welcomed back with open arms. We should also be like the older son when he was obedient and faithful and dedicated to his father’s work. Both sons make serious mistakes, but both also exhibit admirable behaviors. And both sons are unconditionally forgiven their offenses and loved by their father.
But how do we do this? How can we learn from this parable, embody the good qualities of each, without also exhibiting each son’s bad habits? I think that’s too much to hope for. More likely, we will experience the good and bad behavior of each son, and simply need to recognize it and correct our behavior as quickly as possible. Lent is a time for increased focus on God, but to focus on God we must also be more aware of ourselves and our behavior.
This winter, I was at camp at the Antiochian village with a group of teens. During his sermon at Liturgy, the Right Reverend Bishop Thomas started out talking about how he cleans his glasses. It got me thinking that glasses are an excellent metaphor for our lives! We are like glasses. We need to be cleaned and washed often. And it’s worth remembering that glasses are transparent; and serve only to help a person see something else. Our lives should also be transparent, and we need to live our lives so that people can see through us to Christ.
We need to turn back to Christ like the younger son and then try to keep clean like the older son had done.
During this Lent, I would encourage us all to try to realize our mistakes and turn back to our Father like the younger son. But also to be obedient, like the older son was. But unlike the brothers, we must never forget that Christ has perfect love for us and is always willing to forgive us, and lead us back to our Father in heaven.