23 - Prodigal Son, January 31, 2010

I Corinthians 6:12-20

Luke 15:11-32

On the Feast of Theophany, the Church told us of a better and changeless path found in the depths of the Jordan that ascends to God. This better and changeless path found in the deeps of the Jordan is, I submit, the path of the Prodigal Son’s return to the Father. One notes that the elder brother was not in the Father’s house, either; so that, like his younger brother, the Prodigal, he, too, needs to find the better and changeless path that returns to the Father’s house.

Now, we have just come out of Theophany. Only yesterday did I finish going round to bless the homes of our parish faithful. When we sprinkle ourselves and our homes with the blessed waters of Theophany, when we take some of that blessed water and sprinkle our office, our cubby or our station at work, are we not mystically covering our world with the waters of the Jordan? If our world is covered with the waters of the Jordan, then the better and changeless path is to be found right here before us in our world right now.

So, exactly where is this better and changeless path? How do we find it so that we can begin to make our way to our Father’s house?

I believe we’ll see the path coming into view when we reflect more closely on the biblical significance of the Jordan. The Jordan marks the end of Israel’s journey through the wilderness after God had delivered them from Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Behind Joshua, the Israelites crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land.

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, however, is not the end but the beginning of His journey. And, it is significant that immediately after He is baptized in the Jordan, He is led by the Spirit not into the Promised Land but into the wilderness – for 40 days, corresponding to the 40 years that Israel was in the wilderness. Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan, then, corresponds to Israel’s passing through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. What, then, in the life of Christ corresponds to Israel’s passing through the Jordan and into the Promised Land?

It is His death on the Cross, His three day burial, His descent into hell and His Resurrection from the dead. Here the bible is showing to us the better and changeless path we heard tell of at Theophany. It is the mystical path of the prodigal; and, it is the inner essence of Great Lent by which we make our way from the Red Sea of our baptism to the Passover of Christ’s tomb into His Holy Resurrection and back to His Father’s house.

We learn from this also that the initial joy of our conversion and our baptism, when we unite ourselves to Christ, is followed by following Christ into the wilderness of our world just as Israel was after the deliverance from Pharaoh in the Red Sea, and just as Christ was after His Baptism, for the specific purpose of being tempted by the devil. The difference, of course, is that Christ was without sin. The temptations of the devil came to Him from outside His pure soul and sinless heart. We, on the other hand, are sinners. The seed of corruption is in us. The temptations and afflictions of the devil come to us not just from outside but from inside our souls. It’s not just the devil we have to fight. We have to fight our attachment to the things of the devil, above all our self-love, our vanity, our greed and our pride. We endeavor to obey Christ’s commandment to turn the other cheek in the love of God, only to discover at once that the seeds of anger are deeply rooted in us. His commandment to be pure in heart only reveals our attachment to impurity. His commandment to be chaste and faithful only reveals our enslavement to the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

And yet, because Christ was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to suffer temptation by the devil, when we suffer from our fight against the devil both within us and outside of us, we do not suffer alone. When we suffer for the sake of Christ, we are united to the suffering of Christ; and if in our suffering we are united to Christ, we will share in His victory.

The parable of the Prodigal Son tells us that as soon as the Prodigal stepped on the path that led back to his Father’s house, the Father saw him from afar off and rushed out to greet him. The Father rushes out to meet us in the teaching of Holy Scripture, in the prayers and teaching of the Church, in the lives and teaching of the fathers and the saints who have seen God and experienced Him and who teach us in their writings and by their lives how to walk the better and changeless path that leads to the Father’s House. The Father rushes out to meet us in the spiritual beauty of Great Lent. In all of these ways, the Father makes Himself present to us in His Word, Christ Jesus Our Lord, to teach us how to unite ourselves to Him and how to confront the evil within us and outside of us as we make our way through the wilderness of our daily life in this world and back to the Father’s House. Above all, the Father comes out to meet us in the mysteries, the sacraments, of His Church, and especially Holy Eucharist when we partake of Christ Himself. In the Church, Christ gives Himself to us here and now wherever we are in the wilderness of our world.

Christ has revealed Himself; He has enlightened the world to reveal the better and changeless path that ascends back to the Father’s House. That path becomes especially visible and easy to walk in this blessed season of Great Lent. I urge you to make the center of your wanderings in the wilderness of your world to be here in this sacred place; make your way often into this holy temple that the Christ who dwells here may guide you onto the better and changeless path that takes us back to the Father’s House. Christ is in our midst. Amen.