Tag Archives: Luke 15

Of Crucial Importance


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.”

Lost and Found at World’s Fair

Fifty years ago this summer my family visited the World’s Fair in Seattle. We camped on Bainbridge Island and took the ferry to Seattle.  The Space Needle was brand new and there were many world exhibits. The crowds were large so my father had cautioned my brothers and sisters to stay close as we walked the fair grounds. If they did get separated, our rendezvous place was a magnificent fountain in the center of the fair.

I knew that I would not get lost. I prided myself on being able to read the fair map and to direct our family to each stop along the way. Everything went smoothly until one afternoon. As our family walked toward the Science Pavilion, I looked to my left to see may family walking along beside me. “Yep, still where they should be.”

Then it happened. I looked up to my left and my parents were gone! My brothers were gone.  Even my sisters were gone. They all were not where they should be. My family was LOST! Before I had a chance to rescue them, a vendor saw my confusion and whisked me away. How was I going to find my family with a big security guard taking me to some hidden place?

As he pulled me along, I came to the stark realization that I would never see my family again. Among the millions of people at the World’s Fair, how could we find each other? I was now an orphan. My family was probably already on the ferry to Bainbridge Island. The security guard took me to a room for “lost children.” I gave up all hope and began to wail. I was certain that I would never see my family again.

I don’t know how long I remained in the room, but I was both surprised and relieved when my father walked into the room. I was found.  I later learned that my father had first gone to the fountain, but then discovered that the fair had a video feed into the “lost children” room.  He spot his wayward son and quickly came to my rescue.

Jesus said, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Luke 15.

Lord Jesus, seek and save me once again.