Sermon notes from February 19, 1995 Luke 15:11-32 The Prodigal Son
It has been claimed that the happiness of the individual is the greatest good according to the American culture. The happiness of the individual is even part of the American Declaration of Independence and the rights of the individual are guaranteed and protected by a host of charters and documents not only here but also now-a-days through out the world.
The happiness and the rights of the individual seems also to imply that protection from the other is a fundamental necessity (Zizioulas, SVSQuarterly, Vol 8, No 4, 1994, p 349). In other words, apparently, if we are to be happy, we must always be protected from the other person who might somehow infringe upon our freedoms. In this system, the “other”, any other person to some extent is always an enemy to my freedom and happiness.
We all are familiar with the Gospel story of the Prodigal Son and its lesson on repentance. I do not want you to forget or lose that lesson. The hymn of the prodigal which you can find in your bulletin reminds us of this lesson, it is a message of great significance as we prepare to enter into Great Lent, that prime season for repentance and confession.
I do also want to challenge you with the Gospel message that the “other,” the other person, all other people, are not our enemies when it comes to salvation. In fact, one common idea to all of the prelenten Sunday Gospel Lessons is that our neighbor is our salvation.
Today’s lesson, the Prodigal Son exercises his individual freedom and separates himself from the constraints of father and family. But, he becomes spiritual heroic only when he comes to his senses and repents and returns to his father to beg forgiveness. Then as the story continues the elder brother wants freedom from that no-good brother of his. But the father pleads for unity, communion, compassion, empathy, sympathy, love. All of these virtues are possible only when there exist others to love and be in communion with. The Lord’s teaching implies love for the other, not separation from them.
Last Sunday, we heard the Gospel lesson of the Publican and the Pharisee, again it was the story’s bad guy, the Pharisee who thanks God that he is not like the other. The Pharisee is glad that he is not like the Publican and that he has nothing to do with the Publican. Yet, according to our Lord it is not this Pharisee who God considers as righteous. Again, we have in God a responsibility to love the other, as God does love every one whom He has created.
Next Sunday is the Gospel lesson of the Last Judgement. Again it is the person who cares for and loves the other, who loves the least of the others, who is called blessed by Christ and who is welcomed into the heavenly joy of the Master.
So many other gospel lessons have a similar theme. The Good Samaritan. Jesus’ lesson when he washes the feet of his disciples. The neighbor, the “other,” is our salvation. Unity, communion with one another, love are all great goods in the Kingdom of God.
Now I know, like you know, that it is not always easy or the easy way to love others. It is not always easy to maintain community or communion with others. It is not easy to love those who make themselves unlovable in our eyes. We wish we could be free of those “others” who irritate us, fail us, hurt us, disappoint us, sin against us. It might be our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors, fellow parishioners. We have a parish meeting or an annual meeting and we get angry at the other, and we thank God that we are not like the other and wish we did not have to deal with the other.
But our Lord, calls us to love one another, to maintain the concord and unity of peace in our marriages, families and parishes. We are taught to love one another even as He has loved us. We are both to repent of how we wrongly and selfishly separate ourselves from others, and we are to embrace and accept those who repent and come back to us.
The desert Fathers said that hell, the eternal death, is nothing more then isolation from the other (Zizioulas, p 351).
Communion, that reception of the life-giving Body and Blood of our Savior is that union not only with Christ but with all those who hear His voice and are united to the Savior of our Souls.
As we approach the Holy Chalice to receive that Eucharist, let us in our hearts unite ourselves to one another, in love, compassion, empathy, sympathy and in every virtue which binds us together in God. Amen.