The Saturday in the 2nd Week of Lent
March 11, 2023
Luke 15: 11-32
The parable of the Prodigal Son is a story we are all familiar with. The majority of the parable focuses on the younger son who, for me, was always the more relatable character. Because of his selfishness, the younger son chooses to leave his family, travel to a distant country where he “squandered his property in dissolute living” (a kinder description than his brother’s interpretation in verse 30.) I have certainly made selfish, unwise decisions that have not only impacted me but others as well. The key part of verses 11 to 24 is the return to the father. The younger son has to acknowledge his selfishness and seek forgiveness. What a comforting parable of being lost and then found – a story of God’s grace to those who rebel and then return.
If only Chapter 15 ended at verse 24. About thirty years ago, someone gave me Henri Nouwen’s book, The Return on the Prodigal Son. The book was inspired by a Rembrandt painting of the reunion of the father, the younger son and, also prominently featured, the older son. I had never given much thought to the older son but, the more I read Nouwen’s book, the more uncomfortable it became. I realized I was much more like the older son than I wanted to admit. He did not rejoice in the return of his younger brother but instead, became angry. “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command: yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.” There is no joy, just a sanctimonious, self-centered response to what should have been a joyful occasion.
Fortunately, the central figure in the parable and in Rembrandt’s painting is the father. Not only does he welcome his lost son back, he responds to his older son with love. As Nouwen reflects, we are all similar to both sons but we can also be the father- a compassionate forgiving loving father, mother, sibling, child or friend.
The parable ends without a response from the older son. I choose to believe he returned to the celebration and welcomed his lost brother home.
Sidenote – Nouwen’s book is excellent and I would absolutley recommend.