We can all be considered prodigal sons, because we are spending the precious time we have been given on things that are taking us away from God rather than bringing us closer to God. This is what sin does. Is taking us to a far-off place where we forget about the Father, and think we are free to spend the precious time we have and the precious gifts we were given for things that do not matter in the end.
Many may say, “Yeah, Father, there is nothing wrong with enjoying life.” I agree, there is nothing wrong with that, but there should be a balance between enjoyment and responsibility, between satisfying the body and fulfilling the soul, between what we receive and what we give back.
One cannot just spend, spend, spend, because in the end he will hit rock bottom, and in suffering hard contact with the rock bottom he will finally understand what the true purpose of the inheritance was: It was not to be spent with harlots, not to be spent in the restaurants, not to be wasted oversleeping after a night of partying, but to be used wisely to achieve in the end what we call salvation.
Sometimes, however, this may be too late—we talked about this in the parable of the rich man that had a good harvest—but other times this hard wake up call can change someone's life. The Gospel today is about this; it is not about despair, not about punishment, but about hope, love and forgiveness.
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 (Lk. 15:20).
The Father is always waiting for us to come home to Him, to wake up from an illusion of happiness and prosperity that the devil is creating around us and run to Him, recognizing our mistake, embracing Him with all our being, letting Him be one with us, to guide our lives to were it belongs—not to faraway lands, but here in communion with His love. Happiness is often not in the things we crave, but in the things we already have. Do you want to make someone happy? Teach them to be happy with what they have. If you want to make someone unhappy, show them the world.
I am sure many of us have felt that moment of change. For some it is the moment of conversion from a different religious background to Orthodoxy. For the Orthodox it is the moment when they actually realize what they were missing and then return to their roots. It is a powerful moment; it is a life changing moment.
But some, after arriving at this moment, once the effervescence of the moment has passed, say, “Done. Christ is back in my life. I fast, I come to Church once in a while, I take Communion; I'm okay.” But this is no more than another illusion of security, because our wicked ways that have been with us all our lives have a way of coming back in the moment we expect them the least. You know what they say about addicts: once an addict, always an addict. Sin, and especially repeated sin is also an addiction, so we can paraphrase this and say: once a sinner, always a sinner. As the alcoholic will find a way to get to the bottle, so the sinner will find a way to go back to sin.
The spur of the moment is not enough to secure salvation for us; the transformation needs to be deeper—not just on the surface, but within the depth of our being. Otherwise the emotion will pass and we will go back to the far-off land, with the parties, the harlots, and the false friends.
Even the greatest saints did not let their guard down until they went on to the Lord. They were always with their guard up, like warriors, fighting the unseen warfare with their thoughts and the temptations of the world. It is a war that we have to win, but the victory is only at the very end.
So the only way to secure a true change in our lives is to align our lives in complete obedience to God, to let Him guide us toward Him, to allow Him to take our hand and walk us through the obstacles of life like a guide leads a blind man. We are in fact spiritually blind; we need to let Him open our eyes so we can see the vision, the beautiful plan He has prepared for us from the beginning of the world. He does not want us to suffer; He does not want us to be a sad, moralistic bunch, with no fun at all. He only wants us to stop resisting the change He wants to make in us. To open our hearts for the change He brings.
Through sin we have introduced corruption and mortality in our bodies. Christ wants to fix this—He brings immortality and incorruption. He showed us the way by being the first of the new kind, by being the first that has regained, as a man, the rightful place for mankind at the right hand of the Father.
One thing however is necessary—only one—to die. We cannot live forever in these bodies; they need to be destroyed in order to be changed. Practically speaking we need to die to sin, so we can be born into virtue. We need to die to this material world to be received in the spiritual Kingdom. We need to give up the slavery of our transgressions so we can roam free with the Lord.
Until we have done that we will always be prodigal sons, running away whenever the Father turns His back to us. It is true that the Father will always welcome us with open arms. But although His patience, love, and understanding are infinite, we don't live forever—once we die, nothing can be done. We don't have to wait for the second before death to repent, to cry: “Father I have done wrong! Forgive me.” Who knows the moment of death? Only God, so the moment of change is not at seventy or eighty years old, after a life spent far from God. No, that very moment is now, at age twenty, thirty, forty—sooner rather than later, before sin has made us addicts; before sin has become our second nature that we cannot shake off.
Let us pray therefore that our Father Who has created us with His own hands will give us the wisdom to change our lives now, before it is too late; to give us the strength to stay firm in this change, so that at the end of our days spent searching for Him He might open His loving, fatherly arms and say: "Welcome faithful son, enter into the joy of your Father!" Amen.