First, we have a benevolent father. He is not a mean man. He is kind and compassionate, I see him almost more life a grandfather, just younger. He has two sons.
The younger son is brash, with a rebellious side. I see him as someone who is about to go to college and “sow their oats.” He doesn’t ask. He demands. He demands his inheritance. This is quite an insult to his father. It’s as if he’s wishing his father were dead, so he could have his share of the property.
The father is kind. He doesn’t send his son away, or get angry at what is an unreasonable and also insulting request. He gives his son half of his property, and his blessing.
The younger son goes away to a far country. He lives in largesse. He makes friends. He is popular. He quickly squanders that he has in large living. His friends disappear. His is lonely. He is hungry. He is desperate. He gladly agrees to work on a farm feeding pigs just to have some food. He hits rock bottom.
The father must be sad. He misses his son. I envision the father sitting on the porch of his house each night after work, looking down the long road, wondering, hoping his son will be home for dinner. He doesn’t send a search party after the son. He gave his son his blessing, he gave him freedom, he won’t take it back.
The younger son, in what is the turning point in the story, comes to himself. He realizes that his life is in shambles. No one has to tell him. He knows his sad truth. He decides that he will run back to his father and beg his forgiveness. He will offer to work as a servant. He realizes he has lost his right to be called a son. He just wants food, warmth, and a purpose. He begins his journey home.
The father sees his younger son coming home. He is overjoyed. He runs to his son, embraces him, kisses him. He doesn’t ask for an explanation or demand an apology. There isn’t any ounce of anger, revenge or restitution on his mind. He is so happy to see his son has come home.
The younger son tells his father, “wait, I have something to tell you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son, to be embraced and kissed by you. I deserve to be treated like a servant.” Can you imagine the scene? A father embracing the son. The son so broken that he cannot accept his father’s embrace.
The father is determined to show his younger son that he still loves him. “I’m so happy that you are home, we are going to have a feast in your honor.” It doesn’t matter that the son has blown half of the father’s wealth. He is so overjoyed his son is home that he is in a mood to celebrate, not punish.
Now we move to the older son—he hears music and dancing coming from the father’s house. He is hard at work in the fields. He has had to work twice as hard, in the absence of his brother. He has seen half of his family’s fortune disappear. When he hears the cause for music and dancing, he is angry. How can the father forgive a wasteful son? How come the father never celebrated and rewarded HIS loyalty? A confrontation with the father ensues.
The father implores the older son, to come celebrate the return of his lost young brother. The older son does not share the father’s joy. I’m ALWAYS doing the right thing and you never reward me. The father says to his older son, in the most kind and compassionate voice, I imagine he sits with arm around him, and says “son I love you. I love that you are always with me. I love that you are loyal to me. But shouldn’t we be happy that your brother, who was ‘dead to us’ has returned?”
The father in the story is God. We are the children. There are “younger sons” and “older sons” who live among us. There are people who appear to be wasteful and very sinful. There are others who never seem to do anything wrong—they are loyal, faithful, consistent.
Why does the story shaft the older son, while showing so much love for the younger less responsible son? Because from a spiritual perspective, we are ALL prodigal sons and daughters. There is no one who is a loyal as the older son claims to be. There is no one who has never sinned against our Father. There is no one who hasn’t wasted a portion of the inheritance (our faith, our talents, our life). There is no one who hasn’t done some “loose living” (sinning) in a foreign land (away from God). There is no one who isn’t in need of repentance, or of the Father’s (God’s) forgiveness. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t need to make the journey back to the Father through repentance, an understanding that we all stand at a distance from God.
This is the lesson of the Prodigal Son. We are all the younger son at times. We all need to make the journey back to God. Our Father waits to forgive us and restore us. And when we see someone making the journey back to God, we are to celebrate this, not look down on it. The goal of the Lenten journey each year is for us to remember that we are “prodigal sons and daughters” and to make our way back to the Father with repentance—a sincere desire to change. And in return to receive our Father’s forgiveness, as well as His joy that we have returned.
Good Father, I made myself distant from You; do not forsake me, nor show me to be useless in Your kingdom. The vile enemy has denuded me; he has taken my wealth. The gifts of my soul I have squandered with abandon. So, having arisen, once again I return to You and cry, “Treat me as one of Your hirelings.” For me You stretched out Your pure hands upon the cross to snatch me from the fearsome beast, and to vest me with that former dignified apparel, for You alone are great in mercy. (Doxastikon of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, Plagal 2nd Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
It is time to start making your plans for your Lenten journey back to the Father.