I don’t believe that there is a more profound example of how much God loves us, even in our fallenness and sinfulness, than the Parable of the Prodigal Son!
St. John Chrysostom explains the parable eloquently, simply, beautifully. I wanted to speak of this parable from the outset so that you could learn that, if we are attentive, there is remission of sins even after baptism. I do not say this to put you in a state of inertia, but to distance you from discouragement, because discouragement produces worse evils among us than inertia. Therefore, this son bears the image of those who suffer the fall after the Laver. That he represents those who fell after baptism is obvious from the parable. He is called “son”; no one can be called a son without baptism. Furthermore, he inhabited the paternal house, and took his share from all the paternal substance. Before baptism no one has the right to receive paternal things, nor to obtain an inheritance, so that through all these events he speaks to us about the status of the faithful. He was a brother of the reputable one; he would not have become a brother without spiritual regeneration. Therefore, what does the one say who fell into the worst wickedness? “I will arise and return to my father.” His father did not hinder him from departing to the foreign land precisely for this reason: so that he could learn well from the experience how much beneficence he enjoyed while remaining at home.
The Holy Fathers explain repeatedly that we are all prodigals in our own fashion. All of us have left our paternal home (heaven) and are sojourning in a land where we are literally feeding the swine in order to survive.
Saint John continues. For as the best physicians bring back those who are far gone in sickness with careful treatment to a state of health, not only treating them according to the laws of the medical art, but sometimes also giving them gratification: even so God conducts to virtue those who are much depraved, not with great severity, but gently and gradually, and supporting them on every side, so that the separation may not become greater, nor the error more prolonged.
And the same truth is implied in the parable of the prodigal son as well as in this. For he also was no stranger, but a son, and a brother of the child who had been well pleasing to the father, and he plunged into no ordinary vice, but went to the very extremity, so to say, of evil, he the rich and free and well-bred son being reduced to a more miserable condition than that of household slaves, strangers, and hirelings. Nevertheless he returned again to his original condition, and had his former honor restored to him.
There is no honor in departing from the Father’s love. But in even greater proportion, there is no honor in hardness of heart that prevents us from turning from our fallenness and returning to His love. For our Lord has shown us how truly great His love for us is.
Let us, all as prodigals, grow to abhor feeding the swine. Let us remember the Father’s love for us, and make the choice to fashion our prayer of repentance as we return to Him, not with tentative steps, but running to His love—as He, in the parable, runs to embrace us in that divine Love.