The following is from a homily from Saint John Chrysostom
I have often heard grumblings from the faithful concerning the person of the elder brother and his status in this lesson. Before our minds travel too far, we should consider that both sons describe us and our spiritual condition. First and foremost, each of us has squandered our Father’s inheritance, that is to say, the gifts that God has given us. And where does this most unprofitable behavior lead us? After the flower of youth has departed, this riotous living leads us to a barren land, a place of famine. This is a spiritual famine. Great are the depths to which we have fallen. We are cast into the mire with the swine – these are sinful thoughts that have become deed. The husks are the rotten fruits of our sinful labors.
But then behold, like the son was roused from his spiritual lethargy, he came to his senses and remembered the place of verdure and rest that was his father’s house. Before our last breath, will we rouse ourselves and come to our senses?
We remember the rest of the Gospel lesson and how the father ran out to meet the son while he was still “yet a great way off”. The father was keeping vigil for the return of the son. So great was his love for his son that he watched daily and awaited his son’s conversion – his resurrection from the death of sin back to life of contrition and repentance.
And so we find the elder brother, who was working in his fields when he heard the tumult coming from the house. It was the sound of music and celebration that caused him to draw near and then we see the curious dialog between the elder son and his father…
The following is a snippet from the homily of St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel lesson of the Prodigal Son. This reading is according to Gospel of Saint Luke.
The Gospel: And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him.57
The Explanation: Loving his children, the wise (father) accepts the son who returned and reassures the son who never left.
The Gospel: And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.58
The Explanation: Some say that the kid represents a little pleasure, and understand the friends to mean one’s desires. Thus, the righteous son says, Thou never gavest me a little pleasure, that I might rejoice in my own desires.
The Gospel: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.59
The Explanation: God’s property is grace; the harlots refer to voluptuousness. (
The Gospel: And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.40
The Explanation: Since thou dost ever keep my commandments, thou wilt inherit all that is mine. For such are the sons that inherit the kingdom of God the Father. Fret not, furthermore, for no injustice is found in thee.
The Gospel: It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.41
The Explanation: Here Christ shows that it is fitting to rejoice and be glad at the repentance of sinners. For who would not be glad at seeing a dead man return to life? And who does not rejoice at finding something which was lost? Great and most wondrous is our Master’s love toward man, and no one is equal to the task of thanking Him. Not only does He take back those who have departed and gone far from Him, but when they return He rejoices and honours them with great gifts. Not only does He not seek to condemn them; He even deigns to grant them graces. Not only does He not reproach them; He Himself answers on their behalf. Still, many of those who are righteous and who serve God often complain about the salvation of sinners.
At that time the Pharisees, who were pure and justified themselves, complained against the Lord, because He received harlots and publicans. But even David murmured, and is heard to say, How long shall sinners boast? And Habakkuk says, How is it that the way of sinners prospers? And Jeremiah says, Thou hast planted them, and they have taken root. Elijah also was stirred to anger against those who violated the commandments of the Most High, as it is recorded. And many others also ask that the wrath of God come upon sinners and offenders.
But in this parable the Lord says to all who justify themselves and despise sinners: Suppose you are righteous like the elder son, and pleasing to the Father; nevertheless, I ask you who are righteous and pure not to grumble about the salvation of sinners, but rather to rejoice and be glad with them, for even the angels rejoice at the repentance and salvation of sinners. Such, then, is the concern of this parable for those who grumble and pose many questions and conditions about the forgiveness of sinners and God’s mercy, about His plans for them and His reaching out so that they do not lose their salvation.
Therefore, brethren, though we be righteous, let us not turn away from sinners, nor let us complain when God receives them, nor let us be vexed by the judgments of God. Let us, rather, accept them, and let us bow down in gratitude to God for those who are being led aright to salvation and also for those who are considered sinners. For how knowest thou, O man, whether he whom thou deemest a sinner has not already repented, and therefore God looks upon him with mercy and mildness? Knowing these things, brethren, let us never despair, never forget our hope, even if we live badly, because cultivation of the earth improves the quality of the garden, and directing the soul to virtue can protect us from all sins and failings and lead us to salvation; therefore, let us not despair. For just as it is impossible for a dead man to get up and walk, so also it is impossible for one who despairs to be saved. Just as it would be wrong for one who is racked with illness to kill himself and perish, so also it is unjustified and wrong to kill oneself mercilessly with the dagger of despair. Instead, one must display repentance, compunction and glorification of God, for this is truly good, beneficial and salutary. Then our Father, Who is so desirous of love, will receive us kindly and mercifully; He will fall upon us to embrace us; He will clothe us in our original garment of passionlessness; He will confer upon us the pledge of the Holy Spirit, and will vouchsafe us the kingdom of heaven, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and dominion unto the ages of ages.