Nail 'Em to the Wall
by Fr. James C. Meena
In the observance of the Sunday of the Prodigal Son from year to year we hear Priests preaching about what it means to be a prodigal, applying this parable to our lives. I would like to speak now not of the Prodigal Son but of his brother, the other son who stayed home and remained obedient to his father’s commandments and who preserved his fathers inheritance, who worked side by side with him and for as long as he was needed there. When this son saw that his brother had gotten away with so much, he was upset. The Prodigal brother had taken his share of his father’s estates prematurely and had gone off and wasted it having a good time while the steadfast brother had stayed home and lived his day to day existence in the fields, working with the animals, doing odd jobs and chores around the house, working from sun up to sun down and sometimes longer. Yet his father, — rather than chastising the Prodigal, rather than cutting him off and saying, “All right now son, you made your bed, lie in it”, — was compassionate and merciful instead, and when he saw his prodigal son returning he wept with joy and he ordered a great festival for him.
This kind of turned the other brother off for, after all, this is not fair. “Here is this brother of mine, this bum, who never took care of his obligations to his father, to his heritage, to his estates. He never paid attention to those things that I, the faithful son have been so careful of and now he is enjoying a festival in his honor.” The faithful son had never even been given a small goat by his father and encouraged to have a good time with his friends. He was simply “taken for granted,” or so he thought.
Many times I have been engaged in conversation by members and leaders of our parishes relative to those people who don’t come to Church and who don’t pay their dues. “How can we punish them?” How can we, somehow or other, make them realize that they cannot be “prodigals” and get away with it. And yet that is precisely what they are. They are our “prodigal” brothers and sisters who fail to realize the value and the importance of keeping faith with the heritage of their forefathers as this prodigal failed to realize how important it was for him to remain steadfast to his father. No matter how much we, as human beings, would like to punish them, would like to see them cut-off, would like to see some sort of tax imposed upon them to be sure that they realize that, after all, we have been here year in and year out paying our dues, making sure that the Church was taken care of, attending Church worship, functions and affairs, donating and doing all these things, I say that no matter how sorely we are tempted to start thinking this way we should think of that faithful son in this parable and remember that response that the father made to him.
After all, my beloved, is not this whole Christian ball game about salvation and oneness with God? Isn’t this whole thing about Christ who paid all of our debts for us a long time ago and who has an account that is inexhaustible upon which we might draw whenever we are truly repentant. If one of our “prodigal” brothers or sisters finally sees the light for whatever reason it may be, and comes back into the embrace of the Church, we should all open our arms and our hearts to him with love and with compassion, with tears welling up in our eyes. We should fall upon his neck as the father fell upon the neck of his prodigal son, and we should adorn them with the finest robe of our sincerest affection. We should rejoice and make a great spiritual feast because “there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over all the righteous.” (St. Luke 15:7)
“Which among you having an hundred sheep,” asked the Lord, “would not leave the ninety and nine and go to search after the one which is lost. And having found him, and returned him, to the sheepfold, would not call all his neighbors and friends to come and to rejoice with him because the sheep which was lost has been found?” (St. Luke 15: 4-6)
When we are tempted, therefore, to become so business-like and so secularly efficient, that we wish to impose upon the potentially repentant those things which might hinder their reunion with us, let us think of the faithful son, and the reply which his father made to him; “you are always with me, and everything that I have is yours but this your brother was lost and is found, he was dead and is alive again.”
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America