The Return of The Prodigal Son
The Younger Son
The Younger Son Leaves
Nouwen discussion of the younger son leaving is more heartbreaking than we might imagine it based on the way this parable is told in Sunday School. It is much darker than the cautionary tale thrown around in youth group to warn teenagers away from partying. The piece that I find lost in the the cultural translation of this parable is the son’s request is tantamount to wishing the death of his father. Nouwen’s request is that we allow ourselves to be drawn into the story of the son and to recognize our own figure being embraced by the Father.
Nouwen describes his search for love in faraway places as the greatest tragedy of his life. (39) In fact, he identifies this search for love and acceptance in the faraway land as his point of connection with the younger son. In his journey he identifies the voices of others as the most damaging pieces of his journey because those voices drowned out the voice of God in his life. But there were many other voices, voices that are loud, full of promises and very seductive. These voices say, “Go out and prove that you are worth something”...Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me. They are always there and, always, they reach into those inner places where I question my own goodness and doubt my self-worth. They suggest that I am not going to be loved without my having earned it through determined efforts and hard work. They want me to prove to myself and others that I am worth being loved, and they keep pushing me to do everything possible to gain acceptance. They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift. I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire. (40) Do you relate to Nouwen, is there a particular voice that sends you on a journey into the far country? Can you name that “voice” and what triggers it for you?
Nouwen makes overt comparisons to this parable with the story of Jesus. In The Father’s embrace of The Prodigal, Nouwen imagines The Prodigal to find an eternal peace resting against The Father while he bestows an everlasting blessing on his child: You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. Nouwen pulls the words straight from the story of the baptism of Jesus. How does it feel to hear Nouwen draw a direct comparison between you, The Prodigal, to Jesus as we are both named God’s Beloved? Do you accept the direct comparison Nouwen is making?
In contrast to Nouwen’s description of addiction is the acceptance of The Father whose arm are perpetually outstretched. Can you imagine that image? What does it mean to you? Does anything change for you and in you as you meditate on that image?
- What else is speaking to your heart and mind in this reading?