The Prodigal Son (1995)

Sermon notes from  February 19, 1995          Luke 15:11-32   The Prodigal Son

Liberty & Peace

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.

6 thoughts on “The Prodigal Son (1995)

  1. reinkat

    Hello Fr. Ted,
    I discovered your blog tonight. I had been reflecting on the topic of your most recent post. The values of this nation are at odds with the values of Christian faith. The negative view of the stranger/other is only the tip of it. The highest good in our American culture is individual wealth and productivity. The love of others, and working for the good of others, is dismissed. I’d like to see this addressed and discussed more as part of the challenge of living in faith and following the Lord. Thanks for your articulate thoughts.

    1. Fr. Ted

      The reality probably is that the values of every nation at some level are at odds with the values of the Kingdom of God. Think about Satan tempting Jesus – Satan claims the power and glory of ALL the kingdoms of earth belong to him. Earthly kingdoms tend to be about worldly power and glory, values at odds with the kingdom of God. Friendship with the world means enmity with God (Jas 4:4). Yet, despite this, God so loved the world that He gave His own dear Son. The Word of God becomes flesh – becomes united to this world. This is the mystery of salvation of being in the world but not of it. According to John 1, Christ Himself came into the world as a stranger, and the world rejected Him. It tells us something of the values of the world and our attitude towards strangers with whom Christ identified Himself.

      1. reinkat

        if “friendship with the world means enmity with God”, then the reverse is also likely true. It is a great sadness and loss to turn your back on the values and principles of a nation you have loved, and thus a painful choice to follow Jesus. A lonely road. Which is not a surprise, really, in reading scripture. In my own observations, along this line of thought, I have found more in common with counterculture folks than with most Christians. A old hippie can be closer to this choice in effect, albeit it for different reasons, than a typical Christian in the pews.

      2. Fr. Ted

        It is simply true that much of what we embrace in our culture – success, wealth, fame, comfort, pleasure, happiness – are not the values of the Kingdom. That is true in most cultures. Denying the self for the good of the other is a hard value in a culture of extreme individualism in which freedom is associated with pleasing one’s self. Love is always other oriented. Its opposite is not hatred but self love. So yes in just about every culture the countercultural people sometimes seem to be closer to the values of the up-side-down Kingdom in which the first are last, the servant is greater than the master and the least of the brethren are highly valued.

  2. reinkat

    “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” — G K Chesterton
    If there ever was a reason why believers should be faithful in attending liturgies, it is because of the things we are talking about. To go it alone against all cultural, media, and peer messages would be nearly impossible for most of us. How vital is a community of like-minded people also striving to follow God’s will.
    And how ironic that I myself have seen more frequent expressions of love, compassion, and concern for others in my liberal leftwing fellow citizens here in Oregon, than in the multitude of various denominations of Christian churches. God does indeed carry out His plan through unexpected ways.

  3. Pingback: The Pursuit of Happiness | Again and Again

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