Henri Nouwen wrote a book about Rembrandt’s famous Return of the Prodigal Son painting with the same title. I loved the book. It was very spiritually formational and influential for me. Nouwen breaks down three main characters in Jesus’ most famous parable and tries to get his audience to relate to them. He gets us to find ourselves in them.
This is what some of us do when we read parables, or watch any movies, really. We find ourselves in the story. My friends and I used to do this when we watched a movie—we’d claim who we were in the movie. And if we ever watch The Matrix together, I’ll be Neo.
I think when we read this parable, though, we try to figure out which of the younger brothers we are. Are we the one who spit in our father’s face and ran off with our inheritance (essentially telling dad to drop dead), only to squander the money and end up hanging out with pigs? Or are we the loyal brother, who stood by his father’s side, entitled, waiting for his reward and resenting his younger brother who might enjoy it without putting in the work?
Jesus is making a larger point to the entitled believers who are wondering why he is including outsiders in the Kingdom. Luke is using this parable for the same purpose, in some ways, to convict the entitled Jewish followers of Jesus and to keep them from preventing those they judge as unworthy from coming home.
Because the characters of the brothers and how we relate to them is so clear, I hope you don’t miss the opportunity to relate to the father. These parables aren’t allegorical necessarily, and you are probably going to be the younger, older brothers, and the father some of the time. But today, I hope you can consider what it looks like to be the father. Check this out:
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.
The father sees his lost son coming home and he pursues him. He runs to him to offer him repentance. He’s filled
with compassion. He hugs his son, honors him, and returns him home. He celebrates him, includes him, and brings him back into the fold. How can we be like the father too? Notably, how can we do so as leaders?
It’s hard to be like him. It’s hard to think that we have something to bring someone into. Like our home is worth residing in. We might not have the confidence to run out to find the lost son, even while he’s a way off. We might even think that we’re not worth it. But I think God made you part of his body so that you could include someone, so you could help someone along with their reconciliation with the whole body. You are a leader.
So consider today what it looks like for you to bring someone home to Jesus.
Be a lover. There is enough love to go around—one of the most important principles in Circle of Hope. Feel free to share the love, grace, and forgiveness. Lord knows, the world needs it. When you feel dejected and hurt, instead of sulking, forgive. Go running back to include the person who is trying to make a comeback. But love the loyal people too, the soldiers who have been with you. Both sons need the father’s love.
Be an includer. Invite the stranger to your party. Say hello to someone you don’t know at a Sunday meeting. Open up your home. Especially for someone you might not usually include, someone who may not feel like they belong. Make the space for them. And if you’re waiting for someone to include you, then be the includer yourself, be like the father yourself.
Be a convincer. A leader is a convincer. It takes a lot of confidence in Jesus to do that. Sometime you might be wondering what someone’s intentions are before you approach them. Do they want to connect? Are they interested in? All that anxiety that leads us can be problematic. We will find out the details in relationship with them; and it is that very relationship that may cause them to join us.
See what happens when you think of yourself as the Father today. Who can you bring home? Who can you invite to belong? What is Jesus calling you to do?