The Meeting / 2/15 February 2009–The Feast of the Meeting of the Lord and Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Today is an unusual day. On this day, two liturgical cycles come together, and we hear two marvelous Gospel readings about the Meeting of man and God. In a certain sense, this Meeting contains the meaning of religion. If we choose to derive the word “religion” from the Latin re-ligāre—“to re-tie,” then the break which began when Adam hid himself from God (Gen. 3:10), ended when the son “arose and came to his father.” And God, “while [the son] was yet at a distance, … saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). God Himself comes to us, embraces us in the state in which He finds us, restores in us the robe of righteousness (Isa. 61:10), and leads us home Himself.
In this time of preparation for Great Lent, the Church teaches us through examples from the Gospel. Last week we heard about the foolishness of the Pharisee, who brought to God his imaginary “worth” and “earnings,” and about the wisdom of the publican, who in himself saw the true state of mankind—on its knees, burdened with sin, stranded in the mud of its passions—and who brought to God his illness, sorrows and weakness; that is to say, he brought to God his true self, and not a fake mask. The Pharisee cannot accept Christ as his Savior—he does not think that he needs salvation. The Pharisee sees himself as already good enough, and expects nothing but a reward from God. His own false opinion of himself prevents him from recognizing that he is like a “whitewashed tomb, which outwardly appear[s] beautiful, but within [is] full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). Telling the Pharisee that he needs the Savior is like telling a man who thinks that he is healthy to go see an oncologist. “Why should I?” he will say, “I do not have cancer!”
The publican, on the other hand, possesses a true vision of himself and runs to God in all humility and honesty. He recognizes that the ills of sin and the cancer of passions are killing him, and he hurries to the Physician. He knows that he needs salvation and is thus ready to accept the Savior. He realizes that he ended up far away from his home, stripped of his royal dignity, on his knees at a pig’s trough, and he wants to come home.
Today, Christ calls us through His parable and urges us to get up from our knees and to run to Him, as did the prodigal son when he came to himself (Luke 15:17). But how are we to come to Him Who is so far away and unreachable, to the King of kings, the Creator of the ages, and the Master of the universe? Is it not natural to appear at a royal reception decorated in lace and medals, wearing hats with feathers and brocade dresses? Is it not normal to show off one’s dignity and to pose (Luke 18:11)? But what is the worth of all of these fake props in the presence of Him Who is the fullness of reality? What is the use in whitewashing our masks and of “justifying ourselves before men, [when] God knows our hearts” (Luke 16:15)?
“My son, give me your heart…” (Prov. 23:26) The Lord is not asking us to give Him anything which He did not give us Himself. It was not Adam who was looking for God, but God Who was calling the lost soul (Gen. 3:9). The son was travelling from far away, but the father was already waiting for him and “when he was yet at a distance, his father saw him… and ran” to him (Luke 15:20). The righteous Simeon prayed to the Master as a servant, but the Master was already lying in Simeon’s arms having Himself become a servant (Luke 2:28; Mark 10:45)). God did not come to us seated on a throne somewhere in the clouds, unreachable, surrounded by armies of angels. God came to us as a weak and helpless Child; He gave Himself completely into our arms, holding back nothing, hiding nothing.
The name of today’s feast is “the Meeting of the Lord.” God wants to meet our hearts, but we continue to hide from Him behind fig leaves (Gen. 3:7), behind our imaginary righteousness (Luke 18:11-12), or behind outright prodigality (Luke 15:13). God gives Himself to us, all that He is He gives into our arms, but we posture before Him like Pharisees: “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (Luke 18:12). And that is in the best case…
Today is an unusual day. Today, God is waiting for us. Like a father, He is looking into the distance to see whether His son is coming. Like a small and helpless child, God gives Himself into our arms. We must meet Him as equals. We must call upon Him as He calls us, run to Him as He runs to us, and fully, keeping nothing back, give ourselves into His arms, even as He gave Himself into ours. Only then, the Meeting can happen—the meeting of a sinner and the One Who has the power to forgive, a paralyzed man and the Healer (Matt. 9:2-6), an infirm woman and the Physician (Luke 13:11-16), and a man crucified by his sins and passions and God taking up the man’s pain and death beside him, raising him up, and leading him home (Luke 23:33-43). And in this reunion of God and man, in this working together with God (1 Cor. 3:9) is the sacrament of our salvation.