Summary: Part 2 in series The Return of the Prodigal, Dave looks at what we can learn from the young man’s return to his father and his home.
The Younger Son Returns
The Return of the Prodigal, prt. 2
Wildwind Community Church
February 20, 2011
Well, as you know, it’s February. And if you were here last week, you heard me say that we’re talking about love and about relationship this month. But it’s not about love between human beings and it’s not what we would call romantic love. Instead we want to look closer at the love of God for each of us. To do this we are using Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. That parable inspired a painting by Rembrant, which inspired a book by Henri Nouwen so in this series we are drawing insights from all of these places to come to better understand the love of God.
Let’s look at our text for today.
Luke 15:11-20 (NIV)
11 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons.
12 The younger one said to his father, ’Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 "Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.
14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.
15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.
16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 "When he came to his senses, he said, ’How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!
18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’
20 So he got up and went to his father.
Let’s look at the painting for a moment.
Look at the condition of the young man who is held and blessed by the Father. He has left the Father’s house with arrogance, with money, determined to find a great life for himself. He has returned with nothing. Scripture portrays him in desperate straits, starving, longing to eat even with the pigs. Look at him portrayed by Rembrandt. His head is shaved (lice? fleas?). Of course we don’t know for sure whether the man’s hair was really shaved or not, but the symbolism is rich. This man has used money to acquire status and friends and women for himself, but when he runs out of money, there go also the status and friends and women. He is a nobody. Anybody ever notice that guys like me with a beard and goatee tend to look quite a bit alike? Hair is a major way that we distinguish people from one another. It is obvious, and when the hair is gone, we have to look for finer things to distinguish people. It becomes harder to tell them apart. So this man who was on top of the world is now a non-player. The father and the man standing tall observing are both wearing cloaks, but the kneeling son is dressed in what were at the time just underclothes, and Rembrandt somehow (I don’t understand drawing or painting at all) managed to paint these clothes looking thin and worn out. They are barely covering him. He’s wearing a giant rag. His left foot is missing a shoe, and is scarred, and he only has half of his right shoe. He has lost everything.
But if you look on his right hip, you’ll see the one thing he hung onto. He still has his sword. This is the sign of his sonship. This reminds him who he belongs to. As hungry as he has been, he has never sold this sword, though he could have made much money off of it. Again, this is not mentioned in the parable, but Rembrandt is trying to show us something critical. Jesus says that the day comes when the young man says, “What am I doing out here? Even my father’s hired hands have it better than I do.” That sword represents his true identity. That sword reminds him, “You are the son of your father.”
Nouwen points out that although Jesus describes that the man is desperate, and Rembrandt paints his poverty vividly, we cannot see what inner damage has been done to this man. But Nouwen reminds us that we do not have to see it. We already know. He writes, “The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.” And then, in detail I found to be almost shattering, Nouwen goes on to write about the process of becoming lost and alienated from our Father. He captures succinctly a process that may happen over a period of years, but will inevitably happen when we find ourselves in a distant land. (Read marked section on pg. 47 in book)