14 Aug 2022
The Gospel. St. Luke xv. 11.
Jesus said, A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger ! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
Here are statistics I found when I gave this sermon first n 2008: One in seven kids between the ages of 10 and 18 will run away at some point. And there are between 1 million and 3 million runaway and homeless kids living on the streets in the United States. In 1999, an estimated 1,682,900 youth had a runaway/thrownaway episode. Of these youth, 37 percent were missing from their caretakers and 21 percent were reported to authorities for purposes of locating them. Youth ages 15-17 made up two-thirds of the youth with runaway/thrownaway episodes. Of the total runaway/thrownaway youth, an estimated 1,190,900 (71 percent) were endangered during their runaway/thrownaway episode by virtue of factors such as substance dependency, use of hard drugs, sexual or physical abuse, presence in a place where criminal activity was occurring, or because of their extremely young age (13 years old or younger). Here are some updated statistics:
- According to Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America, around one in 10 young adults…experienced unaccompanied homelessness within a 12-month period. This equates to an estimated 4.2 million youth and young adults in the U.S., about the same as the population of Los Angeles..
- The same report also found that 72% of homeless youth who slept on the streets or in shelters also couch surfed. And more than 40% of surveyed youth experienced more than one episode of homelessness during the year, with 73% experiencing an episode longer than one month.
- The National Center for Homeless Education found that the number of unaccompanied homeless students increased by 25% between the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 school years.
- It is estimated that 6 to 7% of youth run away from home each year – more than 1.5 million children and adolescents annually.1 NRS’ report, Why They Run, indicates that issues cited by youth as reasons for leaving home include family dynamics; physical, sexual, verbal, and other types of abuse; and economic issues at home. The study also found that almost half of the youth interviewed said they were forced out of their homes.
Our Gospel today is of one such runaway 2,000 years ago.
The young man might have been ambitious when he started out. He was resolved to live his own life. “Father give me the portion of the goods that falleth to me.” (St. Luke 15:11) This verse has even been seen as an allegory for Adam and Eve in the Garden receiving their free will only to use it to rebel against God the Father. The prodigal may have been intent on making a mark, but things went seriously wrong when he reached the city. The prodigal wasn’t thinking about his father or brother, but about himself. We can imagine that, when the money was gone, his friends deserted him too. He had no joy, no real friends, no inner peace. He had entered a nightmare. In desperation he found a man needing a farm hand and was sent to tend the swine, about as grim a task as a Jew could face given the laws on the uncleanliness of this animal. The prodigal had fallen so far that he had more in common with the pigs than with men. When hunger set in, he was reminded of home and how the servants had always had plenty of bread to eat. The prodigal’s trust in himself was gone, and he was ready to face his father in humility admitting his wrongdoing. Scripture says, “He came to himself….I have sinned against heaven and before thee.” (St. Luke 15:17,18)
It’s worth taking a moment to think about the state the prodigal son had fallen into, the state of sin, something we all experience. First, the state of sin is a state of departure and distance from God. We run from Him as far as we can go. Second, sin is a spending state, a place of wasted time, effort, and resources. Thirdly, sin is a wanting state. It is a place of hungers of many kinds—all the desires unfulfilled. Sin is a state of servitude: we become servants of the prince of this world through greed, filth, and immorality. Finally, sin is a state of loss. Souls separated from God are lost souls. The only cure from the madness is for us to come to our senses.
Some feel the father is being too easy in forgiving his son so readily. This father did not passively wait for the boy to arrive. We can imagine he had been looking for his return eagerly and impatiently. The truth is here that God welcomes the sinner in just this way. Jesus emphasized this because the publicans and Pharisees just couldn’t believe it to be true. Even the prodigal only asks to be made as one of the hired servants. But the prodigal was not born to be a slave, nor was mankind created to be in servitude to sin. With the prodigal’s confession comes his father’s forgiveness. With our confession comes God the Father’s love and Jesus Christ’s redemption for our sins.
The father tells his other son, “This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (St. Luke 15:24) Real death then only comes when the soul is lost. A man is dead only when he is lost to the love of God; a man is alive when he is found again by God’s love.
In the resentful brother we see the attitude of the Pharisees to whom Jesus is telling this parable. They were righteous in their own eyes and self-justified. Both the son and the Pharisees fail to recognize their own sins and thus have become self-righteous and merciless. But the father’s answer is gentleness itself, “All that I have is thine,” (St. Luke 15:31) he explains. This brother did not love God with his whole heart, and he did not love his brother as himself. Are we guilty of the same thing? In the parable we can imagine the elder son finally accepting his father’s answer and accepting his fallen brother back into the family. But the Pharisees in Jesus’ audience would not yield and remained cold hearted to the end being instrumental in the death of Our Lord on the Cross.
What then of us? Are we prodigal children, runaways too? Of course, we are. We have run away from God’s love and been disobedient to His will. We have chosen to follow the path of our own hearts. Can we, like the prodigal, abandon our pride and turn back and go home? The first step is to come to ourselves, wake up from the nightmare, and admit to God, “I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, O Lord.” Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
Bishop Edwin Tompkins