prodigal - home to stay

Home To Stay

A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’ So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off to a distant country where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.  (Lk. 15:11-13)

The story of the prodigal son is one that most Christians know so well, we don’t always hear it. It’s easy to hear those first words of this parable, and think, “Oh, yeah. This one. I know it” and then tune out. That is a mistake. Like every word that Jesus uttered, recorded in the Gospels, we could spend our entire life plumbing the depths of this parable and still not wholly understand its riches. It’s good to spend time thinking, praying, listening with open ears and open hearts on every familiar word of our Lord’s.

The Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen, wrote a gem of a book entitled The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen spent a great deal of time in front of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son, which is housed at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It was from Nouwen’s meditation on this painting that the book was borne.

Nouwen’s book is essentially divided into three parts: meditations from the perspective of the father, the eldest son, and the younger son – the prodigal. Nouwen gives voice to the emotions, the prayers and thoughts of the three essential characters in the story. In his contemplation of the prodigal, Nouwen says:

The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear the voice that calls me the Beloved, and the less I hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.

Even as the prodigal realizes that he must return home, knowing full well he deserves to be treated as nothing more than a servant for his sins against the father, he doubts:

Although claiming my true identity as a child of God, I still live as though the God to whom I am returning demands an explanation. I still think about his love as conditional and about home as a place I am not yet fully sure of. While walking home, I keep entertaining doubts about whether I will be truly welcome when I get there. As I look at my spiritual journey, my long and fatiguing trip home, I see how full it is of guilt about the past and worries about the future. I realize my failures and know that I have lost the dignity of my sonship, but I am not yet able to fully believe that where my failings are great, ‘grace is always greater.’

On the part of the father, Nouwen explores his deep mourning. He is hurt, angry, disbelieving. How could his son, for whom he would do anything, turn his back on a father’s love? Eventually, even before the son’s return, the father reaches a point of forgiveness:

I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.

Ultimately, Nouwen concludes:

Unlike a fairy tale, the parable provides no happy ending. Instead, it leaves us face to face with one of life’s hardest spiritual choices: to trust or not to trust in God’s all-forgiving love.

Kevin Ray Brost is a young musician, originally from Cape Girardeau, Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River. Now a Nashville artist, he has released his first single, “Stay.” The video shows a young man, wandering. Is he headed home? We also glimpse an elderly man, in a home that seems devoid of life, writing a letter. Brost’s lyrics seem to give voice to the prodigal, but leave the listener to determine whether the prodigal is the father or the son:

Please believe me, I promise I’ve changed
I know I’ve hurt you, and caused you pain
Now, son, I’m sorry, I’ll take the blame
This time I mean it: I’m here to stay.

From Nouwen’s perspective, we are all the prodigal. We are also all the father and the eldest son. The emotions, anger, selfishness that these three men feel are all true of us as well. We all wander from God. We all are jealous of others. We all must ultimately learn to forgive. We all must finally trust in God’s all-forgiving love – and come home to stay.

Enjoy Brost’s video: