The Parable of the Prodigal and His Brother
Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.
Every Sunday that I teach "Church School", (what the Ukrainian Byzantine Catholics call CCD, or Religious School, or Sunday School classes) to my 1st and 2nd grade, I prepare for class with the lesson from our book as well as with teaching on the Gospel. I found a great quote from St. Ambrose that I didn't read, since it was at the high school reading level, but very much illuminated my understanding of this passage.
Get up and run – Christ chooses those who stand. Rise and run to the Church. Here is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He who hears you pondering in the secret places of the mind runs to you. When you are still far away, He sees you and runs to you. He sees in your heart, He runs, perhaps someone may hinder and He embraces you. His foreknowledge is in the running, his mercy in the embrace and the disposition of fatherly love. He falls on your neck to raise you when you are prostrate and burned with sins. He brings you back when you have turned from the earth to heaven. Christ falls on your neck to free your neck from the yoke of slavery and He hangs his sweet yoke upon your shoulders. (St. Ambrose)
While the kids were coloring and doing their craft for today's class, I started highlighting what I thought was the most important things from this passage. I have to give them crafts or they are very disappointed by the way. Last week I had so much to teach with the Jesus Prayer that I left off the craft for the week. To a child they whispered to me that the class isn't fun without the craft. So I had two crafts today to make up for it.
Here is what the Holy Spirit led me to highlight to them, which fills me with love just thinking about it:
- When you hear that the Father runs to the son and hugs him, and kisses him, even though the son was rude, and sinful what does that tell you about God? Is God's love and mercy and compassion greater or is his resentment, and anger greater? Little girl, "His love and mercy and forgiveness are greater."
- Anytime we are feeling bad because we maybe disobeyed our parents, or were mean to a brother or sister or friend from school and we need God's help, or when you are an adult and you might do even worse things, because you don't have your parents helping you with all your choices, he sees ahead of time that we are coming, knows we are going to pray and runs to us with grace, and mercy when we need it most. One of the little boys asked me, "Is that true? He knows even before we pray?" I said, "Yes, in fact it is the Holy Spirit within you that you received in Baptism and were sealed with in Chrismation (Eastern Rite's version of Confirmation that is given to a baby immediately after Baptism) that prompts you to pray."
- The older brother is not filled with the same forgiveness and love. He resents the younger brother being treated so well. This is a lesson to us too. When someone comes to us asking for forgiveness, by saying they are sorry, we should forgive that person. We are shown such great love and mercy by God the Father sending his Son to open the gates of heaven for us, and by God the Son in love and obedience dying on the cross for our sins, and giving us his life within us in the Holy Eucharist, and by giving us the Holy Spirit. We need to imitate the Father in this parable and forgive not imitate the older brother in resentment and unforgiveness and lack of love. Where do you think the lack of love and unforgiveness come from? Listen how he is retelling how he has worked . . . it is like the Pharisee last week. He is taking pride in his own work and faithfulness and this sin is keeping him from acting like the Father. If someone says they are sorry, is God going to be more pleased and happy with you if you forgive and help them feel better, or if you stay angry and do not forgive? Little girl, "If we forgive and help them feel better."
I love this Gospel passage because it so clearly conveys how much God loves each of us. Sometimes we have some rationalization and explanation for why we faltered, why we chose one thing over what might have been God's will for us, or the teaching of the Church in a given circumstance. We might waste time on this rationalization and internal debate if we don't focus instead on the great love and compassion of God. Even when we feel separated from him, his loving gaze is upon us. Even before we turn to him, or start walking toward him in his Church, he is running toward us. Just like the prodigal Son, we won't even have time to get our long-winded explanation out, because he will be embracing us, his kisses upon our neck and his loving presence filling our souls.
This icon of the Prodigal Son was somewhat of a catalyst for a friend's return to the Church, including the Sacrament of Confession. While of course she didn't share the details of the confession, she did say how incredibly good the priest was, and it seemed to me, he was handpicked for her that day. His consoling and compassionate message to her, "God forgave you long ago. He loves your heart." He told her the real sin and waste was in letting the sadness of what she was confessing keep her from God, who loves her.
How important for us to not walk, or rationalize, or dwell on the circumstances, our weakness, regrets and guilt, but instead to turn quickly to the one who is running toward us, Our Lord and God.
"The Lord is gracious and merciful,slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love." Psalm 145:8