|Stewardship of the Gift of Repentance|
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!’ I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance. (Luke 15: 4-7).
Our Lord’s words in this parable illustrate the reward of coming back to God—eternal joy! And yet, oftentimes we look at our world around us and fall into the distraction of forgetting our own sinfulness. Oftentimes we begin to imagine ourselves as immune to the harm of our sinful endeavors—that we can control our sinful ways—and give ourselves over to the delusions of grandeur that this way of thinking inspires. We want to believe that we experience no ill effects from our sin…
The Prodigal Son of the Gospel wanted to believe this same thing. This is why he joins himself to a citizen of the land of sin—that far country from God—and works to feed swine. This is why he begins to suffer want and hunger. But it wasn’t until he truly was hungry from fasting that he was able to come to himself—that he came to his senses. It wasn’t until he was forced to eat nothing (as no one would give him anything) that he woke up to his surroundings and the consequences of his sinful living.
This “waking up” is an awareness that his sinfulness had truly separated himself from his Father. He fully realized this distance he created with his sinful life, when he cries, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15: 18-19).
We too, my dear brothers and sisters, must wake up to the consequence of our sin. This is why it is so important to prepare ourselves for the Holy Mystery of Repentance. We can confess all of the examples and lists of sins that we have in our lives; but if we have not this awareness of our sins’ consequence and are sorrowful for it—the list means nothing. We must realize that when we sin, we separate ourselves from God—create a distance between us and Him. We must take the time to pray and fast, so that we might be prepared to truly repent—to be sorrowful of our sinfulness and turn from it. This is the necessary step in the road back to God—this is truly taking care of this wonderful and beautiful gift of Repentance.
And when we do, the reward is awe-inspiring! The reward is partaking of the forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. The reward is erasing the chasm—that distance—created by our very sin! We have only to revisit the parable of the Prodigal to see the result:
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still 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 to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here 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.” (Luke 15: 20-24).
The Father welcomes the lost son back to him—not as a slave as the prodigal expected—but as his son! Imagine the overflowing joy of the prodigal—to be welcomed back into the family! Imagine the irresistible joy of the Father—to think He had lost a son and to have found him again! The same is true for every sinner who returns to God in this wonderful gift of Repentance!
May we be inspired to pray and fast, to examine our lives, to come to our senses and repent, so that we too may participate in the Joy of Our Lord, together with His Father, Who is without beginning, and His All-Holy and Life-creating Spirit from this day forth and forevermore!
Written by Fr. Chris Rocknage