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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Today’s Reading | 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 traveled 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.’” (NRSV)


Rembrandt painted a beautiful depiction of this parable that so captivated Father Henri Nouwen that he wrote the book The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen had long identified with the younger son. He spent many years teaching at a university, being involved with numerous movements, and meeting many people, but was left feeling homeless, tired, and lost. When he saw in Rembrandt’s painting the tender way in which the father held his son close to his heart, Nouwen identified with that lost son wanting to return home and be embraced by his father.

Later in life, a friend said, “I wonder if you are not more like the elder son.” Nouwen reflected on how he had lived a quite dutiful life—responsible, traditional, and homebound. He also saw his jealousy, anger, touchiness, doggedness, and sullenness, with a tendency toward complaining, resentment, and subtle self-righteousness.  

Years later, another friend told Nouwen, “You have to realize that you are called to become the father.. . . The time has come to claim your true vocation—to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking any questions and without wanting anything from them in return. Look at the father in the painting and you will know who you are called to be.”

With whom do you most identify in this story today? Why? What is God’s word to you?


God of the ages, God near at hand, God of the loving heart, help me, your child, shine joy; help me, your child, claim home. Amen.
(prayer adapted from the hymn “God of the Sparrow” by Jaroslav J. Vajda)

Reflection written by Victoria G. Curtiss,
Associate Pastor for Mission

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