The Prodigal Son & Brother

 Today’s Gospel Lesson was that of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  This is one of annual Gospel Lessons which the Orthodox Church uses to prepare us all for entering into Great Lent.   Our Lord Jesus Christ rather than giving some laws or a commands as to how to live, uses this Parable to teach us what the Kingdom of Heaven is about and what it is like.  A Parable invites us to think about the story to try to understand how it’s lesson implies to each of our lives.   And it really is the story of each and everyone of us, rather then being a human interest story about this single parent family of two thousand years ago.  Our task is to discern both what the Parable says to us collectively as a Christian community, and what it say to me personally as a disciple of Christ.

This year in my sermon, I asked everyone to think about the Parable of the Prodigal Son in terms of what it says about sinning and how sin affects a family or a community.

If we try to limit our definition of sin to mean “breaking God’s law,” we might in fact not see the communal nature of some sin.  Certainly one definition of sin might be breaking God’s law.  But sin is also that which breaks our union with God and breaks our relationship with our fellow believers.  Sin has a communal nature to it that breaks relationship with others and then requires a reconciliation to take place  to deal with the effects sin has on our relationships with others.

This is most obvious in the Prodigal Parable, when we consider the entirety of the Parable, which ends not with the reconciliation of the Prodigal Son with his father, but ends with the elder brother struggling with his relationship to his prodigal brother, and with the father asking the elder brother to be reconciled to his wayward younger sibling so that the father’s joy might be complete.   The prodigal son had not only broken relationship with his father, he had broken relationship with his family and brother as well.  The Prodigal had left his older brother to do all the work on the estate while he went off to indulge himself as selfishly as he could.   The lesson of the Prodigal is about the Kingdom of God dealing with all broken relationships, and the difficult task of reconciling ourselves with people we have hurt (like the younger Prodigal did to his older brother) or reconciling ourselves with people we do not particularly like or whose lives we do not approve of (like the elder brother had to do with his younger sibling).   The Kingdom of God is about reconciliation.   The Kingdom of God deals not only with sin but with all of the consequences of sin as well.

The Prodigal obviously did not value very highly being son or brother.   He did not value the relationships he had at all – his relationships were not that important to him and certainly not more important to him than getting to do whatever he wanted.  The Prodigal saw his own life as being his alone and saw himself as the only important thing on earth.   He rethought that a bit when he was in the pigsty and no one would feed him.  It was only then that he came to value relationships, and the love of others.

So if I think in confession that my sins are only between “me and God”, the Lesson of the Prodigal is that I need to think again.  I need to see how my actions and choices affect my relationships with others, and also how my actions, thoughts and deeds affect others. 

I need to think about how when I demand getting my own way at the expense of my relationship to others, perhaps that in itself is something I have to repent of, and I need to reconcile with these people whom I counted as nothing.

When I decide that what I want is more important than anyone around me, perhaps I have something I need to repent of, and people I need to reconcile to.

When I decide I am more important than any of my relationships, then perhaps I have something to think about in terms of my understanding of love, and need to work on my relationships with others.

Maybe, just maybe, the people around me, are not obstacles to my getting to heaven, but the very people I need to be reconciled with in order to attain heaven.

Part of the Gospel Lesson which Jesus offers us is to consider whether all I have – whether received as a gift or whether earned – is mine alone, or since God created me as a social and communal being, is what I have in God’s eyes supposed to be used by me in relationship to others?   Is love supposed to impact my attitude toward all I have?   Is love supposed to affect my relationship to all those around me?

Those of us who come to church, do so because in one way or another we are like the Prodigal.  We know what pleasures the world offers us and we also know to some extent the limits of these pleasures.  The bottom line:  Is there anything that the world has to offer that will give us eternal life or life after death?

We come to church because like the Prodigal we realize that maybe there is something missing in our lives, or maybe we find our life as unsatisfactory or empty, and we wonder if maybe there is more to life –  something I am missing by just living for myself and for the world.  

Some of us may KNOW there is more to life than this world.

Some of us may merely BELIEVE there is more to life than this world has to offer.

Some of us may only HOPE there is more to life.

Some of us may only WISH there could be something more.   

What we share in common is that we all come to church looking to find and experience this something more.   That is the very basis of Christian community.  We share the one hope, the one faith, the one love that Jesus Christ is in fact the key which opens the door to God’s heavenly kingdom to us.

Whatever the reason, we come to church because life in the world is not 100% satisfactory, and for some there is really nothing in the world which is satisfactory at all!       So we each are a Prodigal, finding ourselves in an unsatisfactory condition in life and we seek for what it is we are missing.

I can spend all of God’s gifts to me on things of this world, and then realize I have nothing but this fallen, sinful and dying world to show for my efforts.  Or I can enjoy life as God’s gifts and blessings to me to be used in a godly manner and to be used in fellowship with my Heavenly Father and His other children.

And when like the Prodigal we realize that our life is unsatisfactory without the Father and without His family, when we realize being selfish does not open the door to something greater in life, then like the Prodigal we realize the way to the Kingdom is through reconciliation – with our Heavenly Father, but also with our earthly brothers and sisters. 

May your Lent be Spirit filled, and may you find the way back to the Father through heart changing repentance and reconciliation with your spiritual sisters and brothers.