1Cor 6:12-20/ Luke 15:11-32
I was reading an essay written by Metropolitan Nektarios titled, “Why Don’t Miracles Happen to Everybody?” His Eminence’s thesis carries us to places where the saints in faith call on God to heal another, but their prayers for themselves are answered by God saying, “No.” Witness St. Paul asking for the “thorn in his side” to be taken from him, with God revealing to him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” (2Cor 12:9) And in this analysis, His Eminence carries us to an at least partial conclusion that sometimes troubles are allowed to rest upon us AS His “gift” – to teach us to even greater levels to depend upon Him. A while back we read a book titled “Everyday Saints” by Archimandrite Tikhon. It was a compilation of accounts of things he witnessed, just regular people, some monastics, some clergy, some laity, but all with incredible faith who called upon God and had prayers answered. There are indeed “everyday saints,” but I submit to you that we don’t tend to see “everyday miracles.” But, are they there?
Why this discussion here on this day, with the Parable of the Prodigal Son before us? In our Lord’s account of this group of three, Father, elder and younger sons, we find the young one reckless, undisciplined, worldly. There are more words we could apply to him, but we get the idea from these. Fundamentally, he should have seen his life as complete and a blessing. Instead, he viewed himself as oppressed, perhaps living under what he would have couched as an overbearing rule of his Father. He wanted to be out from under the unperceived blessing.
There’s a warning for US in this analogy. We, too, have received multiple blessings from God, blessings which we don’t often enough thank Him for, but even more often we don’t recognize as blessings. And in the choices we make in our lives, we select things that, if only we’d prayed about in advance, if only we’d attempted to look at what God would find pleasing about the choices we need to make, we’d choose differently. But we choose as “feels right”, don’t we! And in going for “feeling” instead of “right”, we move further from the blessings the Father is already (and without our need to ask) providing for us.
That pantry full of food off the kitchen? Do we thank God for letting it be filled to overflowing? That car in the garage with the squeaky brakes? Do we thank God for keeping the brakes from failing on us on our way home from work? That job we complain about having to go to each day? Do we thank God for providing it so that the roof we’re living under can keep us warm and dry?
You see, there are everyday blessings we don’t even notice. And in those blessings, is it such a stretch to look at them as everyday miracles?
We think that everything just goes on within every day. The store shelves are filled with food, and I can go there now, or tomorrow, or later this week and all the things I want or need I’ll be able to toss into a cart and bring home. And we attribute this blessing all to ourselves.
But we saw when COVID hit how something as simple as toilet paper was taken from us. Of all things God could use to get our attention – toilet paper! If toilet paper can go away overnight, what else (that we depend upon) could disappear, totally outside of our personal control? What if diesel fuel couldn’t be delivered? What if the electric grid in our country was taken down by a solar flare? The US power grid has gone down in widespread outages many times in our history, with outages lasting from hours to weeks. What if whatever took the power out lasted longer still?
Are we seeing the idea that we receive blessings, gifts that God allows, every day without ever attributing to His divine providence their being allowed to continue?
In today’s parable, the prodigal refuses to see these gifts. His youthful “wisdom” sees life better elsewhere, even though in that mysterious “elsewhere” there is no experience of what’s better or how it’s better.
It is exactly about this perspective on rejection of God-given gifts that St. John of Kronstadt says, “Brethren! This is how the heavenly Father acts toward us. He does not bind us to Himself by force. If we, having a depraved and ungrateful heart, do not want to live according to His commandments, He allows us to depart from Him, and to know by experience how dangerous it is to live according to the will of one’s heart, to know what an agonizing lack of peace and tranquility tries the soul, devoted to passions, and by what shameful food it is nourished.”
And so in today’s parable, it’s not until the equivalent diesel disappearance happens that the Prodigal finds, “You know, things weren’t really all that bad with the Father….”
Saint John of Shanghai says, “God saves His fallen creatures by His own love for us, but our love for our Creator is also necessary; without it we cannot be saved. Striving towards God and cleaving to the Lord by love in humility, the human soul obtains power to cleanse itself from sin and to strengthen itself for the struggle to complete victory over sin.”
The Prodigal came to understand what both St. John’s are teaching. In his need the Prodigal discovered the humility necessary to repent, to confess to his Father all that he had done, and to further show the extent of that humility, he concludes that he is no longer worthy of being seen as his Father’s son, but only as a “hired servant.”
This is one lesson in love from today’s parable – the love necessary FROM us TOWARD God. But the second lesson is even more important, and that is the lesson of love FROM God towards us, even in the depths of our sins.
It is in the context of this second lesson that we come to understand God loving us enough to allow us to choose to reject His love. The Prodigal did, and by the grace of God he “came to himself” (reacquired his moral sense of direction) and found that all of his thinking had been anti-Father, pro-world, but NOT pro-love. Love was with the Father. The world has no love to give. The world only takes. And what the Prodigal discovered (and this is a lesson that many of us, myself included, need to still come to learn) is that even in “giving” to us, the world is taking more than it gives. “Come, watch 4 hours of TV tonight….” At what expense? I could have prayed for my neighbor. I could have read scripture and grown in spirit. I could have volunteered at the food bank. “Take the evening and go shopping….” For what? What do I truly need that I don’t already have? What will I do with more? Who could make better use of the amount I’d spend on something I don’t need? “Isn’t this supper tasty? Go and get another helping…..” Why? Isn’t what I’ve already eaten enough to sustain me? Who could be fed by what remains who may not be able to find food?
Can we see that the world “takes” by “giving”???
But let’s get back to the love of the Father. It took many years for the implications of the words our Lord gifts to us in this parable to reach down into my own soul and grab me. Jesus says, “When (the Prodigal) was still a great way off, his Father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.” Within this one sentence is a doctoral thesis on the love of the Father! The Prodigal is still a great way off, and yet the Father’s eyes are searching, seeking His lost sheep. The eyes of an old man should be dim. Not the Father’s! He sees His son at a great distance. And Jesus says He had compassion. The Greek word used is splanch-ni’-zo-mai, and it goes deeper than just compassion to a meaning of “having a yearning from the bowels”, from the depth of His Spirit. God’s love for us, even in knowing the depth of our sins, is THIS kind of love! It’s a love so deep and so complete and so full that even as the Prodigal is giving voice to his repentance, the Father is commanding His servants to bring – to put a robe on him, to put a ring on his finger, to give him shoes, and to prepare a feast in celebration. It’s not that the Father ignores the Prodigal’s repentance. Rather, He knows it already, and His joy in the return, the repentance of His son, cannot be contained. Just earlier in this same chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke the Lord says, “I say to you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7) This joy is clearly not limited to the angels – by the parable we come to know that it extends to the Father Himself!
My brothers and sisters in Christ: All of us are prodigals. Different in so many ways, we still are wanderers in a land far from the Father. As the Holy Church gives us these gifts of reminders, let us allow them to soften our hearts to the message of repentance, and offer prayers for ourselves worthy of the fruits of that repentance, worthy of one for whom the Father is waiting – patiently, with the fullness that is the Love of God – with open arms to receive us again as alive!
Glory to Jesus Christ!