The best devotional book I have read in the past decade is Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen uses Rembrandt’s painting, Return of the Prodigal Son, to unpack Jesus’ parable in Luke 15. He helped me see that at times I am the wayward younger son, at times the angry elder son, and even at times, the compassionate father. I found his description of the elder son’s reluctance to join in the celebration of the father’s love speaking directly to my own heart.
For me, personally, the possible conversion of the elder son is of crucial importance. There is much in me of the group of which Jesus is most critical: the Pharisees and the scribes. I have studied the books, learned about laws, and often presented myself as an authority in religious matters. People have shown me respect and even called me “reverend” . . . I have been critical of many types o behavior and often passed judgment on others.
So when Jesus tells the parable of the prodigal son, I have to listen with the awareness that I m closest to those who elicited the story from him with the remark, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Is there any chance for me to return to the Father and feel welcome in his home? Or am I so ensnared in my own self-righteous complaints that I am doomed, against my own desires, to remain outside of the house, wallowing in my anger and resentment?
Jesus says: “How blessed are you when you are poor . . . blessed are you who are hungry . . . blessed are you who are weeping . . . ,” but I am not poor, hungry or weeping. Jesus prays: “I bless you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things [of the kingdom] from the learned and clever.” It is to these, the learned and clever, that I clearly belong. Jesus shows a distinct preference for those who are marginal in society—the poor, the sick, and the sinners—but I am not marginal.
But the story of the elder son puts all of these agonizing questions in a new light, making it very plain that God does not love the younger son more than the elder. In the story the father goes out to the elder son just as he did to the younger, urges him to come in, and says, “My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.”
The harsh and bitter reproaches of the son are not met with words of judgment. There is no recrimination or accusation. The father does not defend himself or even comment on the elder son’s behavior. The father moves directly beyond all evaluations to stress his intimate relationship with his son when he says, “You are with me always.” (p. 79-80)
Lord Jesus, thank you for the promise: “You are with me always.”
I often find myself in the older brother of this story too.
Gosh – Just 507 words make up this parable – such a simple story yet for every book or sermon written on the Parable there are as many different points of view and insights into the complexity of the teachings held within it. It is a story I so often reflect upon, each time finding something for me for that moment. I have also a collection of sermons on the prodigal son which likewise amases me in how each of the Pastors etc gleam a different aspect from the parrable and turn it into a lesson for us to enrich our lives. One of my favourite authors, from time to time, quotes or talks of Henri Nouwen but as yet I have not till now ventured to reading any of his books. I have now however, thanks to this post of yours, purchased an audio book on his reflections of the parrable and ordered the book you have just quoted from. I look forward to reading and listening to Nouwen on the Parrable and I thank you for the prompt!!
I truly hope you find Nouwen’s book as refreshing as I did. Another great book on the parable is The Cross and the Prodigal by Kenneth E. Bailey. He asks the question, “How does Jesus’ crucifixion fit into the parable?” I found his answer to be surprising and significant.
I already have. I purchased Nouwens book (audio mp3) ‘Home Tonight’, another reflection on the Parable and his own life. I listen as I work and Love it – refreshing is the perfect word, as you have used it, to describe his writing. The oither Book is still to arrive which I likewise will enjoy. Audio Books are great but lack the ability to highlight or pencil in notes for later and difficult to stop and replay to listen again and ponder significant parts of the book. But they do however give me a chance to study or listen to scriptures and teachings, utilising my working time to learn instead of my mind being consumed by thoughts of the ‘workaday’ world – most of which is nonsence or consumed with daily dramas.
The book sounds great too – already I am away, thinking on how it would fit into the parable. I appreciate your suggestion and will purchase the book. Books, such as these, about the practice of the teachings of Christ in my everyday and spiritual life, bring a deeper understanding or validate my understanding of sciptures plus bring peace to those parts of my life that these types of books speak of. What is also nice, is to have connection to people like yourself, through this wonderful world of blogging, who are likeminded and readily share their experience and reflections of the Good Life, God and it’s impact on the immediate life in which we live. This is not always so accessable in the communities we live in. It is perhaps the flow of the living water that Jesus talks of in John 7
Thanks a million
Thanks for posting.