Reading: Rembrandt and the Elder Son; The Elder Son Leaves; The Elder Son’s
Return (p. 59 t0 88)
Both (the younger son and the elder son) needed healing and forgiveness. Both needed to come home. . . (I)t is clear that the hardest conversion
to go through is the conversion of the one who stayed home. (p. 66)
Let me begin with the words Henri Nouwen’s favorite saint, Francis of Assisi, said when greeting those he met on his journey, “May the Lord give you peace.” It is the Lord’s presence among his people that can give us peace even as we share a Lenten journey unlike any in my lifetime in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We ask that the Lord grant his peace and healing presence in a special way to the ill and suffering and to the medical professionals and others caring for them. It is a great blessing for me during this difficult season to participate in the honest and insightful discussion of The Return of the Prodigal Son that continued apace across our global community last week. This week we turn our attention to the right in Rembrandt’s painting–to the elder son.
Henri begins his reflection on The Elder Son by noting that during Rembrandt’s time “the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector and the parable of the prodigal son were closely linked” (p. 63) and that the elder son represented the Pharisees and the scribes. This insight becomes an interpretive key for Henri who sees this painting “as a work that summarizes the great spiritual battle and the great choices this battle demands.” (p. 63) And what is this spiritual battle? The elder son can “choose for or against the love that is offered to him” as his younger brother already has. Henri then explores how the son who stayed home also became a lost man. “Exteriorly he did all the things a good son is supposed to do, but, interiorly, he wandered away from his father.” (p. 69) Henri show us how the resentment, anger, and judgment of the elder son, like that of the Pharisees of Jesus’ time and people like us up until the present day, makes the “return” of the one who stayed home “the hardest conversion to go through.” Will the elder son choose to turn away (or convert) from his angry resentment in order to accept the Father’s love or not? Will we?
There is much to discuss this week. Please share whatever touched you in the reading to the extent you are comfortable. You might also consider replying to one or more of the following questions.
(T)he standing man looking at the father . . . is the elder son, representing the Pharisees and scribes.” (p.63) How does considering the elder son as a Pharisee or scribe influence your understanding of the parable? Does this understanding help you to see how you or someone you know might be acting as the elder son at times?
“Once the self-rejecting complaint has formed in us, we lose the spontaneity to the extent that even joy can no longer evoke joy in us. . . . Joy and resentment cannot coexist. The music and dancing, instead of inviting joy, become a cause for even greater withdrawal.” (p. 73) Have you ever experienced a situation similar to this? What was it like and how did you respond? What changes did you make in your life as a result?
Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God. . . Trust and gratitude are the disciplines for the conversion of the elder son. (p. 84) How have you responded to feelings of resentment and chronic complaining in your life? Do you see how the disciplines of trust and gratitude might change that response?
Thanks again to each of you for sharing your Lenten journey. Each of you is a valued participant, whether you are posting comments or following along silently. You are all welcome and we’re grateful for your presence.
Blessings and be safe,