|24 - Prodigal Son, Feb 12, 2017 (with audio)|
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I Corinthians 6:12-20
At the center of this parable is the Father’s House; and, neither son is in it. The younger son is found in a far country and finally in a pig sty. The older son is found out in the field.
The younger son, however, returns to the Father’s House and there his story ends. We see the older son drawing near to the Father’s House, but when he learns that his younger brother is in it, he turns away in anger and refuses to enter.
How his story ends, we don’t know. The parable ends with the Father’s word to him still outside the house, but it does not tell us how the older son responds to the Father’s word. The effect is to leave me feeling as though the LORD ends His parable with His eyes on me, as though my response to the word of the Father will be the end of the parable, as though I am the Elder Brother.
And yet, in all the prayers for this Sunday in the Lenten Triodion, the Church has me praying as the prodigal: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am not worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants.” As though to tell me that beneath my high opinion of myself, I, too, am a prodigal. It feels like these pre-Lenten Sunday parables are shining a light on the self-righteousness or spiritual pride that hides in my heart, as though the Church wants me “come to myself” so that I will make my way to the Father’s House.
For, the Father’s House, in biblical language, is the Temple where God dwells. It’s center-stage in this morning’s parable because the Temple is the Center of creation. It’s in the Sanctuary of the Temple, in the Holy of Holies, that earth opens onto heaven, time opens onto eternity, history opens onto the eternal Today of the Mystery of God, and where man opens out beyond all things into the Kingdom of God.
But, we hear in this morning’s epistle that our body is the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. Should we, then, not say that our soul is the nave and our heart that is the man, i.e., our true self, our personal center, is the sanctuary? Our heart, says Jeremiah, is “deep, beyond all things, and it is the man” (Jer 17:5/9 LXX). Does that not tell us that in our heart, our personal center, we open out into the Father’s House, for is not God beyond all things?
Please see how this morning’s parable, when we read it in its biblical setting, sets before us the Gospel’s inner Exodus of the Soul; how its destination is the Temple of the Father that is “within you”, in the sanctuary of your heart, and that it is showing to us the path we follow to get there. It is the prayer of the prodigal, which is in essence the prayer of the heart: LORD Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!
But, dear faithful, listen! The LORD Jesus Christ says to the Jews: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again.” The Jews, St John tells us, thought He was speaking of the temple building in Jerusalem; but, St John tells us that He was speaking of His Body (Jn 2:19-21).
The Father’s House that stands in the center of this morning’s parable, then, is the Body of Christ; it is the Mystery of Pascha. When the Prodigal rises from the pig-sty and makes his way back to his Father’s House, he is making his way to the Tomb of the LORD’s Body that is in the “tomb of his heart”. He is uniting himself to Christ in the likeness of His death. He is putting to death what is earthly in himself, his pride.
Here is the mystical path of Great Lent before us. It takes us in time through the forty days of Great Lent and then into Great and Holy Week and to Holy Pascha. In space, it brings us back again and again to the Church, to the Father’s House. But beneath this journey through time and space is the tomb of our heart that opens onto the Tomb of the LORD. The rubrics and movements of the Church’s Lenten journey are icons that make visible and tangible in time and space the Gospel’s inner Exodus of the soul into the Tomb of Christ that gives birth in us to the Resurrection of Christ.
Beloved faithful, there is a prayer that fills the prayer of the prodigal in the inner chamber of the Gospel’s Exodus of the soul, this interior journey into the Tomb of the LORD in the tomb of our heart, which Great Lent is. It is the prayer of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself as He empties Himself in obedience to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” I think it may be a prayer that only the one prays the prayer of the prodigal that can hear.
The prayer of the Prodigal is that of the Publican that opens to me the gates of repentance. It is the prayer that leads me with Zaccheus down from the sycamore tree and to the cross of the Church’s Lenten discipline. By the Fast, I unite myself to Christ in the likeness of His death not in religious sentimental imagination but concretely. This is how I put to death what is earthly in me, my pride, and then it may be that the prayer becomes that of the wise thief: “Remember me, O LORD, when You come into Your Kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Is it not in the tomb of our heart where we become perfectly one with the crucified God that we then hear on Holy Pascha Night: “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43)? The tomb of our heart has become one with the Tomb of the LORD that gives birth to the Resurrection. And on Pascha Night, in the joy of the Resurrection, at the Feast where the sound of those who keep festival is unceasing, what will we find ourselves singing? Perhaps, “Let us call brother even those who hate us, and in the Resurrection, let us forgive all things!” Amen!