"I am always with you", Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The return of the prodigal son, Elena Murariu

The return of the prodigal son, Elena Murariu

Father Vassilios Argyriadis

"A man had two sons..." This is how the famous parable of the Prodigal, which we heard today, begins. And we already know from our childhood that this father in the parable is an image of God, while his two sons are an image of humanity. Thus, this story of Christ reveals to us important things about the God of our faith and our relationship with Him.

The first of these is that God has given man so much freedom that man can even act as if God were dead. The younger son in the parable asks his father to divide the inheritance and give him his share. We know that a man bequeaths his property to his children when he is dead. And this was also true at that time—perhaps even more so at that time, since in the context of the Roman world, the paterfamilias of the family was a figure of sovereign status, social and legal. But the father of the parable accepts that his son treats him as if he himself were dead. He grants him the freedom to deny Him and even finances him so that he emigrates "to a far country" and is completely alienated from his father's home.

So the first element that deserves our attention is that God has given us the freedom to treat him even as if he does not exist. But this freedom - and here is the second element worth paying attention to - does not imply that the order of the world, as defined by its Creator, can be overturned. God has made us so that we can desire anything. And our will can change a lot. But he cannot rearrange the world at the root of his life. God the Father cannot cease to be Life because his son wants to treat him as dead. And so, as the younger son moves away from the source of life, he spends everything and ends up on the brink of death. The removal from the source of life deadens his being — "he was dead and he is alive," his father will say when the son has returned.

When the prodigal son returns, the loving father doesn't just wait for him to arrive at his doorstep. As soon as he appears on the horizon, he himself will run to meet him. He will not even let him finish the words of repentance he has spoken. She will fall on his chest and shower him with kisses. He will order the best costume, a ring on his hand, shoes on his feet. He will ask for the fattened calf to be slaughtered and will set up a whole festival for the return of his son. The description of the paternal joy, which Luke's gospel makes, is so rich, that it only aims to symbolize one thing: that God's mercy is infinite and the joy that takes place in heaven "ἐπὶ ἑνὶ ἐμαρτολῷ metanooudi" is indescribable. There are no words that can speak of God's love for man. And love is so great that it can forgive everything, even the behavior of man, who perceives God as dead and non-existent. This is the third point worth keeping: God is full of mercy and love, ready to forgive everything, as long as we understand that He is the source of life and want to return to it.

Finally, there is a fourth aspect of today's Gospel passage that makes sense to pay attention to. It concerns the eldest son of the narrator. We said that the two sons of the parable are an image of humanity. The youngest is an image of that man who denies God, turns away, and in the end, "ἐλθὼν εἰς ἑαυτόν" repents and recognizes God as the source of life. The elder son is an image of that man who never departs from the court of faith in God. And yet, he does not manage to become a participant in the festival of joy. What is he missing?

In fact, the older son has something in common with the younger, he has not understood what the father says to him: "always with you " ... As the younger son, at the beginning of the parable, asks the father for his share of the property, not understanding that in his father's house everything is essentially his, so also the eldest son, at the end of the parable, seems not to have understood the joy to which his father has invited him for so long. He also returns (from the fields), but he has not tried freedom like the younger one, so that he is ready for love. Because these "ἐμὰ" that the father gives are divine freedom and triune love.

Is it necessary to break away from God in order to understand the magnitude of His love? It would be unfair to see the parable only in this way. For the father who provides everything for the returning younger son is the same merciful father who goes out from the feast of joy to invite the older son with the same love. And it is to him who reveals the word "I am always with you" - he is the one who deserves it. If the younger had to suffer to learn life, the older is claimed to be taught by the very source of life. And the parable is left open, without telling us what ultimately happened to the elder son. Interpreters say that this is perhaps because Christ wants the parable to remain an open invitation to His listeners, the Pharisees. They were the ones who had asked Him why He sat at tables with sinners. They were the ones who, like the eldest son, were always by the side of the Temple and kept the commandments of the Law. And they are the archetype of man, who can observe all his religious duties, but not understand what freedom God has given us and how full of love and forgiveness he is. In the place of the eldest son, each believer can also put his own self. Because it is possible that each one of us considers himself a "Christian" and an observer of the traditions, but has rested in them and cannot understand to which God we are loyal and to what joy he has called us. However, His word, the gospel, and this very parable we heard, remains a constant open invitation, a path of discipleship in a knowledge that does not necessarily require ruptures... That is why, for example, the doxastic of the vespers of Saint Philotheus , which we just celebrated yesterday, says that the Saint dedicated herself to God, "I heard the voice of the Gospel" - because she took the voice of the Gospel seriously, no rupture or removal was necessary!

Therefore, in whatever position we find ourselves in our lives, whether we are prodigals or elder sons—and perhaps we all go through both conditions at some point—may God grant that we always remember the four points that today's parable gave us: First, how God has given us infinite freedom. Secondly, that however much man may desire, his desire cannot change the order of the world, for the source of life is one and always will be God. Third, that God is ready to forgive our every breach and embrace with infinite love every return, providing us with more than we have ever imagined or hoped for. And fourthly, how it is possible that we ourselves may deceive us, make us think that we are next to God and keep His commandments, but in the end we have not had any taste of all that God is and of all this joy in which He has brought us. has called.

The end of the parable remains open. Christ calls each of us to write our own end, with our entry into His own paternal feast.

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