Sunday, February 4 (O.S., January 22), 2017: Sunday of Prodigal Son; Apostle Timothy of the Seventy (ca. 96). Monk-martyr Anastasius the Persian (628). Martyrs Manuel, George, Peter, Leontius, bishops; Sionius, Gabriel, John, Leontus, Parodus, presbyters; and 377 companions in Bulgaria (817). Martyr Anastasius the Deacon of the Kyiv Caves (12th c.).
Ss Cyril & Methodius, Madison, WI
St Antony the Great taught that to know God, I must first know myself. For St Antony and the fathers of the Church, self-knowledge is the road to the intimate, experiential knowledge of God. If we think about this for a moment it makes sense. God’s first revelation for Himself to me is, well, me.
Created as we are in the image of God, we are each of us also a revelation of God. This is why self-knowledge is the way to God. God reveals Himself to me.
The readings this morning make clear to us the importance not simply of self-knowledge but accurate self-knowledge. Too frequently, I allow a partial or even false self-understanding to influence my behavior. The Church in Corinth is an example of this.
Many in Corinth embraced to Gospel but they misunderstood what it meant to be free in Christ confusing it with permission to engage in immorality. While they knew themselves as free they didn’t understand the nature of freedom.
Seen in this light, St Paul telling the Corinthians to “flee sexual immorality” is nothing more or less than asking them to remember who they are. And who are they? They are temples of the Holy Spirit called to “glorify God” not only in words but in their deeds. In effect, the Apostle tells the Church at Corinth become who you are!
The obstacle to this, to become who I am, is there for us to see in the Gospel.
Like many of us, the young man in the parable has a picture in his head of who he is. It’s important to keep in mind that the young son doesn’t say to his father, “Give me my inheritance so I can waste it on prodigal living with harlots and loss living.” No, and like many of us at 18 or 19, he asks for what is his so that he can strike out on his own. It is only when he acts on this self-image that he discovers its wrong.
The son discovers what all of us at one point need to discover, what the Christians in Corinth discovered, that freedom doesn’t mean the absence of responsibility. Rather, Christ makes me free precisely so I can embrace my responsibilities.
Again, it is likely that the young man didn’t want his inheritance to spend it on riotous living. But, and again like many college students, he discovered that his new, independent life, brought with it new burdens for which he simply wasn’t prepared.
He didn’t strike out on his own to live a life of immorality. Instead, he slowly succumbed to ever greater temptations until he discovered that lost he was no longer free. Little by little, his freedom evaporated until he found himself envying the pigs the garbage they ate.
In that moment, he saw not only the depths to which he sunk but, in coming back to himself as the parable says, he understood that freedom exists so that we can serve others.
Having come back to himself, he rises from his humiliation and returns to his father. But now, rather than being a demanding son, he returns as a servant. Like God the Son in His Incarnation, the boy lay aside what is his by right. Like Jesus, he “empties himself and takes the form of a servant” (see Philippians 2:7).
Finally, the boy sees himself as he is. He comes to understand that it is in service to others, in the practical works of charity, that we find ourselves. In Christ, God has made us free not, as Paul reminds the Corinthians, for immorality but charity. We are made free for sacrifice and it is in and through our sacrifices that we find not only God but our neighbor and ourselves.
What about us? What must we do?
If we would find God and learn to love Him and our neighbor, we must first turn inward. And, looking at ourselves as we must, first of all, accept ourselves as we are. This doesn’t mean saying that everything we see in ourselves is good–much of it isn’t–but that we don’t turn a blind eye toward what we see.
Without self-acceptance, there can be no repentance, no reform our lives, and so no growth in love for God or neighbor.
It may sound strange but the key to the kind of self-acceptance that leads to repentance and growth in charity is rooted in gratitude. If I would grow in the knowledge of God and love for my neighbor, I must first thank God for the gift of my life. And not only this. I must also thank Him for the knowledge of my failures as much as for my successes.
When God reveals my sinfulness to me He is also at the same time revealing His love for me, His willingness (with my co-operation) to heal what is broken in me, to restore me to a greater wholeness of being.
Listen again to St Paul’s words: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” In revealing our sinfulness to us, God shows us the way forward from bondage to sin to the freedom and joy that are the “fruits of the Spirit” (see Galatians 5:22-23).
My brothers and sisters in Christ! God asks us today not only to know ourselves but to do so so that we can become who He has created us to be. This morning through St Paul’s words to the Corinthians and Jesus’ parable, God says to each of us, lay aside your sin, stop listening to the lies sin tells you about yourself, lay aside the fear that sin brings and find the courage to become who you are!