The prodigal son, having wasted himself in sin in a far-off country, experiencing starvation, affliction, and poverty, comes to himself, finds how far he has fallen away, and starts to reason in his heart how he will go back to his father, and what he will say to him. He then arose, and began to come back to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell upon—that is, affectionately embraced—his neck, and earnestly kissed him.
The prodigal then confesses his sin, humbles himself, and begs for a lower portion than that of a son. The father re-instates him to the dignity of his son, and moreover celebrates with him, clothing him in the best robe with ring and shoes, and kills the fatted calf, eating, rejoicing, making music, and dancing.
Do we comprehend the spiritual reality which is depicted by this parable? Do we feel the incomprehensible weight of its rich value, and the revelation, shining forth from this simple story, of how much God loves sinners?
If any parent could be accused of spoiling their children, God would fall most of all under this reproach. Look how God spoils us, so to say, as is represented by the parable: when we desire to take our reasoning mind, existence, and freedom selfishly into our own hands, and use them independently of God, the Lord allows our departure from Him, though He is grieved. Then, when we feel the effects of our sins tormenting us, and we begin to realize our fall and to reason within ourselves of how we will again approach God, the Lord comes running to us.
This “running” of God and the way He treats the repentant son are the most amazing aspects of today’s Gospel. We take one step; God traverses miles. We seek to humble ourselves before the Loving Father; He ineffably exalts us, humbling us by His more-than-gracious love. Truly, this “running” of God, and His quickness to re-clothe and re-instate us to the dignified honor of living images of Him and adopted sons, this is what ultimately severs us from the unhealthy love of sin. This is the love of God which washes our souls pure.
This is the same love of the Father which is eternally manifest through the Cross of Christ, a love which the Son has also. When we gaze at the Cross and the holy icon of Christ thereon, and remember that He Himself said, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father”; and when we hear also His words for those who are nailing Him to the Cross—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”—then we see the same love which “spoils” sinners, so to say, as is manifest by the father in today’s parable.
Every sin, every passion, every evil thought, every wicked feeling—these are piercing thorns and nails in Christ. We constantly crucify Christ by our sins—not in body, but in spirit; we pain His maternal heart by constant grievances. But what is His reaction? Long-suffering, mercy, pity, forgiveness, love, a desire to save us and deify us and unite us to Himself in a joyous union.
When we sin we are crucifying Christ, but He remains the same as He is—Love Himself. We must think upon this, we must take it to heart, we must let it penetrate to the depths of our souls. For if we constantly contemplate this silent long-suffering love of God for us, despite our constant sin and unrepentance, then we will feel the shame of love, the humbling of mercy, the unworthiness of grace, and the embarrassment of unchanging compassion.
The shame one feels from God’s unchanging love is not the shame of being interrogated, reproached, or held accountable for every small fault; but rather the shame one feels when they mistreat someone, sin against them, and only receive love and calmness in return. Look at the father—who represents God—in today’s parable: when his son comes back to him, where is his reproach, where his interrogation, his demand for recompense? Nowhere to be seen! But rather, he rejoices in the repentant son, he celebrates as if his son has ascended to all manner of virtue and love for him.
The humbling one feels from God’s unchanging mercy is not the humbling of one who is smashed into the ground, shown the evil of their sins, and made to feel wretched; but rather the humbling one feels when they take out their fits of rage and arrogance against someone, and receive nothing but pity and patience in return.
The unworthiness one feels from God’s over-abounding grace is not the unworthiness one feels when they see themselves as a despicable, deformed, outcast, and twisted creature; but rather the unworthiness one feels when, though they have done nothing to deserve it, they are invited to a king’s court, given the place of honor, fed the finest foods, and treated as the king himself.
The embarrassment one feels from God’s unchanging compassion despite our sins is not the embarrassment one feels from a public rebuke, when all their faults are made known and they stand naked before all in shame; but rather the embarrassment one feels when they rip into another person, do all manner of sins against them, and only receive sympathy and meekness in return.
In this manner does the love of God shame, humble, and embarrass. This is the scourge of love, of which Abba Isaac speaks. These are the coals of fire heaped upon the head of an enemy who is given food and drink, of which St. Paul speaks. God never counts us enemies, but we make ourselves enemies against Him when we sin, turn away from Him, fight against Him and the holy way of life alongside the demons, and crucify Him by constant unrepentance.
But what does God do? What is His reaction? What is manifest about the nature of God in today’s parable? What is shown us in the Crucified Christ? Unchanging love despite our sins; a compassion which clothes us though we seek to strip ourselves naked of God’s loving embrace. When we see our sins in the light of God’s limitless ocean of compassion, then we feel like we are getting away with murder, so to say. We feel as if there is no retribution for sin, and that we can get away with anything, and that it will not change the God Who is Love. This is the feeling of God “spoiling” us.
If we receive this divine “spoiling,” so to say, in fear and humility, then it will lead us to a holy transformation, to a conversion of all our powers upon God, to a new life. If we are shamed by such an ineffable and constant outpouring of mercy, then we will be afflicted with contrition of heart, leading us to repentance, confession, humility, and deep prayer with thanksgiving. Then we will say to ourselves: “Behold, my soul, how much I sin against God, how often I turn away from Him, how much I grieve His all-patient heart. Behold also, my soul, how He has not changed His loving disposition to me, how He even has compassion and unchanged love for the mad devil and all his demons, and how He suffers my sins constantly. Behold, my soul, are you not embarrassed and shamed by such long-suffering love of your Creator, Savior, and Judge, Who remains patient and silent? How can you continue to sin against such ineffable and limitless and unchanged Goodness? How can you continue to crucify the heart of the One Who unceasingly forgives you?” This is how we must receive God’s “spoiling” us.
But if we receive the divine “spoiling” of God without regret, without repentance, without a thought of heaven and the salvation of our soul until the end of our life, let us hear the Chief Apostles. Let us hear St. Peter: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering towards us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Let us hear also St. Paul: “Dost thou despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and unrepentant heart thou dost lay up unto thyself wrath against the Day of Wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” But of the sobering reality of the Last Judgment we will hear next Sunday.
Today, let us imitate these Holy Apostles who experienced, above all men, the great mercy of God to sinners. The first, though he was an intimate friend of the Lord, denied Christ with an oath; the second persecuted the Church with vengeance. But the first was restored through heartfelt repentance, being transformed by one tenderly-sorrowful glance of His Lord; the other was humbled by the vision of Christ and with gentle questioning of why he was persecuting Christ and His Church. The Heavenly Christ, seated at the right hand of the majesty of the Father in glory, did not interrogate or reproach St. Paul mercilessly, but gently asked: “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” Both Apostles were converted by the great long-suffering love of God, which they did not take for granted.
If we imitate the humility and repentance of the Chief Apostles and the prodigal son, we shall also be received mercifully by Christ, transformed by His grace and love beyond our comprehension, and shall live in ceaseless thanksgiving, great marvel of His compassion, confession of His goodness, praise, worship, and unending joyous love, together with all the angels and saints, glorifying Him together with His Father and the Holy Spirit, both now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.