Prodigality: A Take on the Prodigal Son
Henri Nouwen,(1932-1996) in his book on The Return of Prodigal Son, writes about the week he spent in meditation of Rembrandt’s painting of the same name that hangs in The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. For hours he sat alone in silence, using the image as an icon. (Look up: The Return of the Prodigal Son (Rembrandt) Wikipedia)
I imagine we all have stories of our own prodigality, the waste of our resources, energy, thought, over giving, Let us count the ways. It may not be a good Idea for the parish to hear of all your prodigal days.
Even so, my years in college and in Seminary were the result of my fathers VA benefit after WWII. He had been killed in action and so the benefit for education that would have gone to his going to Middlebury College, came to me. I spent those college days in less study and more prodigality. Certainly I had to work two or three jobs to supplement college and seminary tuition and fees and I was often too bushed to study. But I “could” have been a lot more disciplined. I probably owed that to my father.
And yet, I wonder if there is a part of us that needs to break away from the assigned roles of family, culture, and nation. Isn’t there a part that needs to get away from the farm, suburb or the neighborhood to see the world?
Maybe that is why the father is so prodigal with his generosity. The son who is lost and is found has learned a hard lesson about life. He has also learned humility and gratitude. Not that the father in his prodigal generosity needs a reason, he may see the necessity of getting out from under the heavy burden of duty and hyper-critical responsibility.
The elder son may never get it. Hide and duty bound, he is like that part of us that has always shown up. He’s always been on the job, never took a break. Often there is no greater resentment than that of those who have given much. Loyal and stuck, the father reminds him so painfully and elegantly,” My boy, you have been with me all these years, there is nothing I have that is not also yours” The father presents an opportunity for the elder son to turn and receive his brother, to turn toward the light and the gaiety and the dance—or to turn away from his brother and the love of his father and walk into the darkness.
Some would probably say the father is over generous. And isn’t that just like God. Always ready to give away the shirt off her back: such prodigality. What will we ever do with her?
The prodigal and the elder son, certainly, live within. We may even have seen flashes of the merciful father once in a while. For as the poet Jane Kenyon wrote shortly before she died;
“And God, as promised, proves to be mercy clothed in light.”