There is a discrepancy between the Parable of the Prodigal Son & Rembrandt’s painting. In the painting, the elder son is present upon the younger son’s return. This seems to be Rembrandt’s holding to the spiritual battle & the choice the elder son has – to choose for or against his father’s love. Rembrandt had chosen to represent the father & younger son in light, while the elder son is shadowed except for his face.
“As I look at the lighted face of the elder son, and then at his darkened hands, I sense not only his captivity, but also the possibility of liberation. This is not a story that separates the two brothers into the good and the evil one. The father only is good. He loves both sons. He runs out to meet both. He wants both to sit at his table and participate in his joy.… [God’s] love does not force itself on the beloved. Although he wants to heal us of all our inner darkness, we are still free to make our own choice to stay in the darkness or to step into the light of God’s love. God is there. God’s light is there. God’s forgiveness is there. God’s boundless love is there. What is so clear is that God is always there, always ready to give and forgive, absolutely independent of our response.” (pg. 78)
Through careful study of the painting & the parable, one realizes that the elder son is holding in a lot of anger, resentment, & jealousy towards his younger brother. He does not trust in his father’s love & therefore does not feel deserving of any gifts. The “…resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift. My resentment tells me that I don’t receive what I deserve. It always manifests itself in envy.” (pg. 85)
Nouwen explains that gratitude, the opposite of resentment, is more than “…a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice.” (pg. 85) Each time we make a choice of gratitude, it becomes easier until one day it’s become habit – a good habit.
Just as Nouwen saw Jesus in the younger son, he also sees him in the elder son.
“Thus Jesus is the elder Son of the Father. He is sent by the Father to reveal God’s unremitting love for all his resentfully children and to offer himself as the way home. Jesus is God’s way of making the impossible possible—of allowing light to conquer darkness. Resentments and complaints, deep as they may seem, can vanish in the face of him in whom the full light of Sonship is visible. As I look again at Rembrandt’s elder son, I realize that the cold light on his face can become deep and warm—transforming him totally—and make him who he truly is: ‘The Beloved Son on whom God’s favor rests.'” (pg. 87-88)
There was so much in Part Two that jumped out at me. It’s really interesting to see how Nouwen relates the parable of the Prodigal Son & Rembrandt’s painting to his own life journey. Next step, Part Three on the Father.