The Prodigal Son: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
In his little book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, the late Henri Nouwen takes us on a soul-searching journey through the lives and lessons of the three main characters in this parable.
First we are made to see ourselves in the motivations of the self-centered prodigal son. It’s all too clear because we are there. We want all that might be coming to us, and we want it now. That-s not news; no one need report the finding to us. What might be an unsettling insight for us is that such a wish regards as disposable those who now have what we want. The father’s beating heart was an obstacle to the immediate gratification of the prodigal son’s desires. To say that he wanted his inheritance now was the same as saying that he wished his father was dead. Indeed, much of what we demand comes at great cost to others.
With Nouwen, we turn our attention to the son who stayed home. In him we see, if we will, our own self-righteousness. It-s a self-righteousness that we hope we will be able to cash in on. One of the differences between the two sons is that the son who stayed home is willing to wait; after all, blessings abound in the meantime. Furthermore, hanging around the house can appear to be devotion to the father. It’s a win-win situation. That is, until grace enters the scene. Then self-righteousness is exposed; we can’t hide it and are offended by grace imparted to others. The arguments born of our self-righteousness burst out of our mouths, and its particular form of greed distorts our face. Our charade is over.
Where Nouwen’s commentary takes us next is unexpected and a bit shocking. Nouwen hears the parable calling us to journey towards being the father. The father-isn’t the word “father” in the parable code for Our Father, the Creator? We’re not to grow toward God-likeness, we’re to grow toward Christ-likeness. Yet, it is the father in the parable who is the most vulnerable, the one who exhibits grace, the one whose love forgives and redeems. These are Christ-like characteristics. Jesus said that if we had seen him we had seen the father. Maybe we are to become like the father in the parable.
But we must be transformed by the lessons of the sons first. Lent escorts us through the parable, stopping at each character to help us see ourselves. With those lessons learned, those characteristics confessed, we approach the Christ-likeness of the father. But, even then, the father seems too much, too much above and beyond us and our realities.
Perhaps we should consider a reasonable first step. Our first step, having learned from the sons, might well be to rejoice with the father. “But we had to celebrate and rejoice,” said the father in verse 32, “because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” Can we begin by acknowledging whom our brothers and sisters are? We quickly say that those who are Christ-followers are our brothers and sisters. While this is true, the bible also clearly teaches that all people are the children of God; they are God’s creation and the focus of God’s love. Our first step toward the Christ-likeness that is a reflection of the Father is to see all people as our brothers and sisters. That’s a tough one, but it is doable. When that is accomplished, really accomplished, other Christ-like characteristics will rush in. We will rejoice with the Father when our brothers and sisters are extended grace; we will even join God in that, becoming a bit more like the Father. That’s probably enough to work on right now.
Help us to see all people as our brothers and sisters.
Help us to join God in extending to them grace.
A word about the series
The Lenten season has always inspired many people to create everything from poems, art and music to a completely new direction in their lives. This Lenten season Tabernacle will be exploring many of those creations in the hope of inspiring you to compose in a medium that is natural for you. The paintings in the Sanctuary are of the Biblical Stations of the Cross. The artist, Grieg Leach, completed them in 2010. They will help us to visualize the events leading to the crucifixion of Jesus. In addition to the paintings there is a Lenten devotional booklet, Return to Me, which is available in print or online. The Stations of the Cross also inspired these devotions, written by Terry York of Baylor University. Living with these two bodies of artistic expression based on the Biblical Stations of the Cross throughout the season of Lent should help us as we seek to return our lives to God by walking with Jesus though his final days.
Pray, read, think and return to God.
All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible.
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