In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
When we watch a movie or read a book, what attracts us? The story, but also how we relate to the characters and what they are doing. We feel the emotions, challenges, success and failure of the main characters of the plot. How do we feel about the extras or the by standing characters? Perhaps, we know they are important but we wouldn’t miss them if they were someone else or missing entirely. I remember watching one of my childhood favorite TV series, “Boy Meets World” where the young Corey Matthew’s, through a series of events, loses his role as Hamlet in the school play and is instead recast as a spear holder. Naturally, he understands and complains that you can’t compare these 2 roles, who is an extra soldier vs. the poetic Hamlet? Shakespeare’s captivating plays are not famous for their spear-carriers or extra’s. However, Corey realizes that even the smallest role has a significant impact on the story when we begin to understand their place.
Likewise, when we read the Holy Scriptures, we mainly focus on who? Jesus, the prophets, the disciples and the main characters of the parable. For example, today is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. We all know the story well. Who are the characters? The prodigal son, the father, the elder brother. What about the servants? Sure they’re in the story but this is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Yet, just as in the great literature works of William Shakespeare, so too in the teachings of Scripture, when we begin to dissect and understand who each character is, big or small, main or extra, we begin to understand how important every person and action is. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, what do we read about the servants in today’s parable?
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet;and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.” (vv. 22-24)
Only 2 verses out of the entire lengthy story and the only time we see any servant talk is at the end, when the elder brother asks what is taking place. Insignificant in the story, right? Wrong! My dear brothers and sisters, each and every word in the scriptures is there for our instruction and guidance to show us how we come into communion with God. When we read the story of the prodigal son, we are taught that each of us is the prodigal son who denies his father and strays away but who always has an opportunity to repent and turn back. We are the elder brother who complains about how the father could accept back a sinful son. We also are the father, through whom we learn we must show love and mercy even to those who hurt us deeply in the same way God the Father accepts us back; but we are also the servants.
When we examine the entire scripture reading from today, we see the story of how God and the Heavenly hosts rejoice at the return of each sinner in the same way a shepherd rejoices in finding his lost sheep or a person rejoices in finding their lost coin. Just as in the parable of the Prodigal Son and in the parables of the lost coin and sheep, we see the angels or the servants rejoicing and celebrating with the Father. How many of us rejoice or celebrate when our lost brother or sister comes back to God our Heavenly Father? How many of us, forgive in order to be forgiven? It is here, where we see ourselves as those angels and servants, my dear brothers and sisters. We know that we all are sinners and we believe that God the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, is merciful, loving, compassionate and forgiving. As I mentioned last week, and as we read every week, God does not rejoice in the death of any sinner. And we are called to be like God, meaning we must not only be loving, forgiving, compassionate, etc. but we too must not rejoice in the pain of others but rejoice and celebrate when they repent and choose a life of faith in Christ.
Yet, how many of us take pleasure in the suffering or misfortune of others? How many of us try to find excuses as to how God could forgive and accept back a horrible sinner? We may say, “No that’s not me.” Therefore, let us ask in a different way. If a Turk or Azeri walked into our Church, how would we react? If a well-known criminal, out on parole, walked into our Church today, how many of us would pray God bring him back vs. saying in our hearts, God keep him away? What about someone from within our communities, or families, or acquaintances who has deeply hurt us, if they walk into Church today and sincerely ask for forgiveness, how many of us would welcome them back vs. how many of us would look with distaste and condemnation? Proverbs 17 teaches us “He who mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity (or misfortune) will not go unpunished (v.5)…[but] He who forgives an offense seeks love…”(v.9)
My dear brothers and sisters, are we the servants of our Heavenly Father? Then we must rejoice with him when our lost brothers and sisters return. Are we the messengers of God on earth? Then we must celebrate when even the most evil and darkest person comes back into the light. Because likewise, when we fail and sin, when we break communion with God, when we are lost and blind for whatever reasons, God our Heavenly Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, along with all the angels, and every person who truly is a child of God rejoices upon our return. Our Lord eagerly waits and invites each one of us, as well as, those around us, back to Him. “Ho, every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Is. 55:1) Come back to God!
Whether we are Armenian, American, Asian, black, white, male, female, young, old, educated, uneducated, strong, weak, half, full, Christian or not, the main character or merely a spear holder in the story life – God is calling each one of us back to Him. Therefore, we must rejoice and celebrate each time one lost sheep, one lost coin, one of our prodigal brothers and sisters comes back to God.
For God our Father has promised us life, healing, comfort and peace. As St. Paul teaches us today, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Whether we are the main characters of a grand plot or merely a spear holder – God has a place for us in His Kingdom. Therefore, let us forgive in order to be forgiven, repent and pray that God will likewise, forgive us and accept us back when we fail. And “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (v.7) Amen!