Monday, February 05, 2007

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

I think my favorite story is that of the Prodigal Son. A father confessor of mine had likened confession to that story, and ever since then, it comes up in my mind. Last night I was talking to Dn. Virgil about my thoughts on it, and he said he enjoyed them, so you have him to blame for this blog post.

There are several differences to look at in this story. One is how the younger son makes his decisions. In the second part of the story, "when he came to himself," he makes a decision. (I also like the translation; it is a beautiful way to say that he was honest with himself, and came face-to-face with his behavior.) However, in the first part of the story, there is no indication that he reflects at all. For one thing, there's no language about it: immediately, he goes to his father and asks for his inheritance. For another thing, he doesn't immediately go out and party: "Not many days later..." he leaves; that indicates that he's really not planning anything, even having a good time.

Another difference in the story is, when the younger son does start planning, how he thinks his father will react and how his father ends up reacting. (My father confessor pointed out that their relationship is a symbol of the relationship between mankind and our heavenly Father.) The younger son plans to say things and humble himself as a servant. However, at first he doesn't even get that chance because his father is so overjoyed to see him: "But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." Then the son was able to tell his father of his contrition.

This story is the story of confession: we do wrong, perhaps unthinkingly, and are estranged from God; we "come to ourselves" and realize that we're in a sorry state, and things are better off where we came from; we decide to go back, humbly; we begin to act on that decision; God rejoices and welcomes us; we follow through on our decision to repent (that's the actual confessing within the sacrament—the hardest part for me); and we are welcomed home with rejoicing and festivities (able again to partake in the Holy Gifts).

The third difference in this story is the behavior of the two sons. One son begins by being unthinking, but then he thinks about his actions and realizes the consequences, and works on his relationship with his father; the consequences are joy. The older son comes into the story almost as an afterthought, completely separate from the younger—no cut-ins to tell what he's enjoying when the younger son is suffering, no telling about how hard he's working—it's not a story about their relationship with each other, only about their separate relationships with their father. (I thought this was interesting.) The older son looks at what he's done and judges that he did a good job and deserves more—after looking at what his brother got. We don't have any information about him being unsatisfied until he looks over at greener pastures. He comes to his father with bitterness and complaints. He doesn't rejoice that he's been better off than his brother this whole time. I feel sorry for him: he doesn't go through so much pain and agony, but he seems locked up, and refuses to grow.

His father seems almost tough on the older son: there are no words of comfort other than, "Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours." This doesn't seem to be what the older son wants to hear: it doesn't focus on his jealousy at all. He has been feeling robbed by his brother's good fortune. There's not even a follow-up to say how he responded to his father's words. It's like a painting where the artist draws you out of the frame by having one of the depictions look out at you; the final words are for us, the congregation of here and now: "It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found."

Now that I think on it some more, this story's placement at the beginning of Lent is a good warning to keep your eyes on your own paper: you don't know what her spiritual father's dietary recommendations are; you don't know his struggle to do as much as he does. Concentrating on your own journey, retracing your steps to the Father in humble repentance is the example held up with the consequence of an invitation to the Feast of Feasts. Don't get stuck on the back porch, moping that "he got more than I did." Your Father is waiting, looking down the road, ready to start the preparations for rejoicing as soon as you come in sight.



Blogger Mimi said...

Thank you, Matushka.

Mon Feb 05, 01:15:00 PM CST  

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