Luke 15:11-32

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with* the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”* But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate. ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “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. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father* said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’

Where do you find yourself in the story you just read? Which character most resonates with you? Henri Nouwen wrote an extraordinary meditation on this parable in his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming. In the book, Nouwen shares a spiritual journey that ensued after his encounter with Rembrandt’s masterpiece, “The Return of the Prodigal Son” found in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. In the painting, we see the younger son kneeling before his father, in shaved head, tattered clothes, sandals falling off. And you could see on the soles of his feet the scars that symbolize the journey that he has made. The father is bending over him, embracing him, pulling him into himself with the look of love and compassion and mercy. On the right side of the canvas is the older son. He has on a vivid red cape like his father’s, a turban, and he is standing up looking at the scene with vestiges of “the look.”

There’s no celebratory expression on the young man’s face. In the painting, your eye is drawn to the young man on his knees. Nouwen saw himself in the young man—someone who had been restless and traveled all over the world seeking love and affirmation in the wrong places, the wrong things, the wrong people. Nouwen spent some time reflecting on how he really resembled the younger son until a friend challenged him and asked, don’t you see yourself in the older son? Nouwen was shocked. Could he possibly be that angry, jealous, spiteful, sanctimonious older brother?

What Nouwen finally realized was that while we inhabit many of these personas, as Christians we are ultimately called to emulate the father. Nouwen realized that his real calling, his real vocation, was to emulate the father extending hands to those who are suffering, resting his hands on the shoulders of those who will come, offering blessing as he has been blessed. During this Lenten season, may we too extend those hands of love and blessing.


Collect for Saturday in the Second Week of Lent: Grant, most merciful Lord, to your faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope