Sunday's sermon on Luke 15:11-32
Third part of sermon series on repentance
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
As we are looking at the parable of the Prodigal Son, I will refer back to one common aspect that is found in the story of Zacchaeus, which we heard two weeks ago, and the parable of the Tax-collector and the Pharisee from last Sunday.
Just to recap what we know about repentance so far – it’s one of those words we throw around often, without thinking too much on its meaning. Repentance is a process, a way of life. A very simple definition of repentance is – figure out what you are doing wrong, and stop doing it. To go from figuring out to stopping can sometimes take a whole lifetime.
Jesus Christ began His whole ministry with the word, “Repent,” therefore highlighting its importance. Since the Lord calls us to repentance, then all of us have something to change in our life; in short, all of us have problems and issues. It’s the matter of recognizing them.
“Repent because the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand,” was Christ’s full command. Therefore, repentance is the key into God’s Kingdom. But, let’s say, I don’t care about the Kingdom that much. Not every Christian thinks too much about the Kingdom. Let’s say, I’m content with this life as it is, but not beyond it.
Fine. We do have a choice between living today, in the present, with an eye on the Kingdom of God; or living today, with an eye on getting the most of today. Each choice we make does have its consequences, but we do have options. However, the process of repentance is not just the key into the Kingdom, even though this should be more than enough for us. Repentance is a process of becoming a better human being – towards ourselves and towards others. And who does not want to be a better person than what they are right now?
To become a better person, we first need to figure out what needs improving. When we do that, we will find out that we can’t get better on our own. We need help. For as long as humanity has existed, we always thought that we are ok on our own, but it has never been true.
The prime example of the fact that we need help in order to improve is today’s booming self-help or self-improvement industry. It’s a $10 billion a year industry, where some people are teaching others how to become better. The help provided ranges from overcoming various addictions to becoming a better leader in your business to simply taking control of your health.
Now, some of this self-help stuff is garbage. I follow some of the people and read their books and some of the advice is nonsense. But there are also very talented people, who have a special gift of being able to help others.
Having said all of this, no matter how good the personal coach is, he or she can’t take another person beyond what the coach is.
In other words, self-help coaches are the same broken and fallen human beings like the rest of us are, they just happen to be good in one particular aspect of life. They can get us to the hill, but not over the hill. Only something or Someone greater than us can help us overcome our brokenness.
In our process of repentance, in order to recognize that we have problems and to realize that we can’t get better on our own, we exercise one of the key virtues of our Christian faith – humility.
Let me take you back to Zacchaeus. When he desired to see Jesus, he ran in front of the people and climbed a tree. Both running and climbing in those days was not something that grown men did, kids did that. We can image people made fun of Zacchaeus, they humiliated him. It took some humility for him to run and climb. But most importantly, he climbed a tree in order to see the Lord. In Christian symbolism a tree is nothing else than the cross.
And what is the cross a sign of? Complete and utter humility and humiliation. Our whole life, in fact, is the cross. I will talk about it during the Great Lent on the Sunday of the Cross. But for now, just remember that Zacchaeus climbed a tree, climbed the cross, in order to see the Lord.
There is a reason humility and humiliation have the same root – one is something we do, other is something that is done to us. We don’t have to be completely humiliated to be humbled, but sometimes we need to hit the rock bottom before we begin our own process of repentance.
The younger son, the Prodigal son from today’s parable, wasted his inheritance and hit the bottom of the bottoms by living with the pigs. He literally could not have fallen any lower. But he remembered that he had a father, he wanted to change, he wanted to eat, but he knew that he could not do it on his own. So he returned, in shame, in humiliation, in humility, he returned hoping to be just another servant in his father’s house. He repented, he changed his life, and the father helped him with the rest.
Why is it so hard to be humble and see ourselves as we really are right now? Because we tend to look into the future too much, into that time when we hope things would be better. Well, without taking care of today, tomorrow is just going to be another today that we will try to get through as fast as possible in hopes of another better tomorrow.
Another great example of humility comes from the tax-collector from last week’s Gospel lesson. When he and the Pharisee went up to the Temple to pray, the tax-collector stood basically behind most of the people and did not dare to look up as he was praying.
In Jewish tradition, people raised their hands, looked up to heaven and prayed. But the tax-collector did not do that because he knew his unworthiness of looking up at God. So he looked down. And looking down is humility.
This is very important. What do we see when we look down? Our feet. Where do we see them? Right here.
When we lose track of time, when we get confused about where we are, when we forget who we are, all we need to do is look down. And realize that, despite all the odds of life, I am here, I am still here. Look down and remember the tax-collector who was scared to look up at God. Look down and remember that humility leads us to see God.
And God alone is able to teach and make us a better person worthy of this life today and worthy of His Kingdom.
And to Him in humility we give glory, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.