I finished reading The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming by Henri J. M. Nouwen. In this short book Nouwen details his journey and his interpretation of Rembrandt’s painting. So this is really an artistic interpretation of an artistic interpretation of a parable. As such, I explored the hearts of two artists and one savior as they led me to places in my own heart.
I fancy myself a prodigal crawling to Jesus a broken and shameful person. And Jesus runs out to me, eagerly pouring out grace and mercy despite all I have done or, for that matter, will do. I get new clothes and a new ring and a party. The prodigal is the most comfortable role.
However, Nouwen does not stop here; he explores all three persons in Rembrandt’s painting and, by extension, in the parable. He admits to being the elder son all too often as well, reminding me of times when I exhibit envy and jealousy.
A young man who is a youth leader at a nearby church once shared with me that he read one of my poems, My Friend, (video version) at one of his youth group gatherings. How cool is that?! Unfortunately, the elder son inside me wasted no time rear his jealous head. I wanted the call to be the speaker at that gathering! I wanted the affirmation and accolades! I wrote that poem. I, like the elder son, believed the lie that more for someone else means less for me. And of course the companion lie goes something like this: I am more deserving.
However, the father goes out, leaving the celebration, to go to his elder son. The father runs out to both the depraved without and the depraved within with the same invitation to join him in his joy. I needed to read this book to hear these words loud and clear.
And that would have been enough but Nouwen continues on to the father, sharing the words of a friend directed to him years earlier. Her words slammed into my heart with much needed force.
“Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father. … You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right. The time has come to claim your true vocation — to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.”
How difficult it is to step out from the comfort of our crowd.