The Return of the Prodigal
The other day while I was leading a retreat, I found myself pondering the story of the prodigal son and recalling to mind the image of the father and son as depicted by Rembrandt’s painting ‘the Return of the Prodigal’ click to see image *. (I have always loved that picture and have a copy hanging in our house).
What struck me that day is how I imagined the scene in my head and then, how it is portrayed by Rembrandt. When I envision the scene I see the father as overjoyed, smiling ear to ear, shouting excitedly to the servants to “get the robe, ring and shoes, go and kill the fatted cafe - my son was dead but now he is alive!”, However when I look at Rembrandt’s painting I see something quite different - I see a very subdued and somber scene with muted colors - I see a father containing his joy and meeting a broken, hurting, humiliated son where he is at. The father’s face is gentle, his hands pressing his knelling son to his bosom, and he holds him - no words are said but love, acceptance, care are clearly spoken. The party will come, but the father meets the son where he is at, a son who is not in need of a party, but is desperately in need of knowing he can come back home, welcomed and embraced by a loving father and yes, even celebrated. God is a God who continually meets us where we are at, identifying with us and uniquely embracing us in the depths of our brokenness, pain, sorrow, shame, humiliation, anger, grief.... God is a weeping God, a present God, a caring God, a wise and powerful God. God is love.
During a time such as this, when disaster hits and fears arise as nuclear power plants are crumbling, we begin to question why God would allow such things to happen. At these times it would be nice to have a magical, fairy king God who waves a wand and takes away all that is bad, all that brings hurt and grief to this world. That time will come, there will be a party, but now is not that time. Now God draws us to his chest and holds us close even while we question, struggle, scream obscenities, shaking with fear and dread. We are not alone! God is with us, meeting us where we are, weeping with us, with our friends, family and the world, and holding for us the promise that this is not the end of the story, but also not minimizing the horrific reality of our current story. God is love. God is with us. God cares, God weeps and God is and remains a very present help in times of trouble. In the now, and in the future, God is love and Love wins.
Now, take some time to reflect on God's love for you, for those who are hurting in the world and let this usher you into a time of prayer for the hurting, the displaced, the disenfranchised, those who are standing in the gap, all the while being open to God's invitation/challenge to you to be, at least in part, an answer to your own prayer, to love as God loves.
*This is not the full painting but just the embrace of the father and son.
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