When, four years ago, I went to Saint Petersburg to see Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, I had little idea how much I would have to live what I then saw. I stand with awe at the place where Rembrandt brought me. He led me from the kneeling, dishevelled young son to the standing, bent-over old father, from the place of being blessed to the place of blessing. As I look at my own aging hands, I know that they have been given to me to stretch out toward all who suffer, to rest upon the shoulders of all who come, and to offer the blessing that emerges from the immensity of God’s love.
Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless.
The return of the elder son is becoming as important to me as – if not more important than – the return of the younger son. How will the elder son look when he is free from his complaints, free from his anger, resentments, and jealousies? Because the parable tells us nothing about the response of the elder son, we are left with the choice of listening to the Father or of remaining imprisoned in our self-rejection.
The full tide of Rembrandt’s painting is, as has been said, The Return of the Prodigal Son. Implicit in the “return” is a leaving. Returning is a homecoming after a home-leaving, a coming back after having gone away. The father who welcomes his son home is so glad because this son “was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” The immense joy in welcoming back the lost son hides the immense sorrow that has gone before. The finding has the losing in the background, the returning has the leaving under its cloak. Looking at the tender and joy-filled return, I have to dare to taste the sorrowful events that preceded it. Only when I have the courage to explore in depth what it means to leave home, can I come to a true understanding of the return.
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) – widely regarded as one of the most profound and influential spiritual writers of the 20th Century.
“The Return of the Prodigal Son” is Nouwen’s masterwork, a vivid and beautiful reflection on Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son (1669), one of the most well-known parables of the Gospel. I am quite sure many have read this book; however, it demands a rereading in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. We are invited to go back to this very special gem.
«Dobbiamo trovare nell’incarnazione le vere ragioni della nostra presenza pasquale in Algeria. Pasqua inizia dalla partecipazione di Dio alla finitudine dell’uomo. Tutto è pasquale nella vita del Figlio […] Dobbiamo trovare nel mistero dell’incarnazione le vere ragioni della nostra presenza. Nella Pasqua di Cristo, la redenzione è il motivo, ma l’incarnazione è il modo».
Nella notte tra il 26 e il 27 marzo del 1996 sette di loro furono rapiti, costretti a incamminarsi, a lasciare, a passare. Esattamente vent’anni dopo, nella stessa notte, i cristiani continuano a celebrare il cammino, l’abbandono e il passaggio, dalla morte alla vita, del Figlio di Dio.