~ St. Augustine of Hippo
In this Lenten Season, to understand why we are focusing more time on our spiritual relationship to God, we need to understand who God is. The Prodical Son is the revelation of God’s unconditional love for His children, and this parable cries out just how sweet the Father’s love is and how much he calls us to His embrace.
What is most striking about this parable is revealed in Luke 15:17, “But when he (the son) came to himself’. That moment of self-awareness. That moment of realization that one has left the road of love and satisfaction. Where St. Silouan writes on the moment of comprehending that the ‘Lord alone is our joy. He alone can make glad the soul of man’ (Archmandrite Sophrony- St. Silouan the Athonite). To know the truth, that man cannot live by Bread alone, is to break free from the demands of the world and to acknowledge our freedom through salvation ‘And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.’ (John 8:32). And thus we rest assured as the son returned to the Father, expecting a reprimanding, found the Father running to him. Running! Running and kissing him! How much more can it be made clearer that our heavenly Father rejoices over our returning to him? (Luke 15:7)
Yet the parable of the Prodical son comes with a double understanding, in which we can find ourselves playing the role of the older son in the parable. The one not working for the Father from gratitude or love but out of expectation of a reward for their own loyalty. St. John Climacus plainly writes that ‘He who leaves the world through hope of reward is like a milestone that always moves in the same way.’
I would like to share a passage from Fr. Philotheos Faros book, Functional and Dysfunctional Christianity that explains perfectly the problem of the older son;
‘The older son in the parable of the Prodical Son demonstrates, in a shattering way, how love becomes hell for him who does not love. For the older son, the lit-up house of his Father, the festive atmosphere, the outburst of joy that is paradise itself, was such a horrible hell that he could not tolerate it and he preferred to stay outside. God always loves all people in the same way. He does not love someone more and someone less, and we create our paradise or our hell by either accepting or rejecting God’s love’
The older son in his concern with works, forgot the very foundations of the Father’s love, God is explicit in what He wants from us when He says, ‘For I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ (Hosea 6:6).
The problem with both sons, is that they both didn’t understand the concept of the Father’s unconditional love and grace. The younger son, toiled with his own guilt believing he was unworthy to return to his same position after repentance. Whilst the older son, relied on his own works, believing he was worthy to be in a higher position. The difference is that the younger son, like St. Peter ‘pulled himself together and regained his will…from the eyes of Christ he has drawn forth power of repentance whereby he regained his wholeness.’ (Fr. Matthew the Poor- Repentance)
‘But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.’