From Bystander to Beloved Part 3


This week I continue dwelling on the story of the prodigal son. This parable of Jesus is the third part of a trilogy found in Luke chapter 15. I have had two companions on my journey: artist Rembrandt van Rijn and priest/writer, Henri Nouwen.  Both have meditated long on this story and both share considerable spiritual insight on what they have found. So it is with more than a little hesitation that I follow them to contemplate the elder brother in the story.

The prodigal has returned. The father has received him. The party is in full swing. The servant talking to the older brother is giving the cue to join the celebration. But the older brother wont have it. They question hanging in the air is ‘will the older brother come home too?’ Rembrandt paints the picture in such way that is up to the viewer to decide. The space in the centre of the picture tells us of the tension between the elder brother standing to the right and the embrace of the Father and the Prodigal Son. As Henri Nouwen found there is much to dwell on here about our own faith story. This is particularly true if your faith story doesn’t include some obvious wayward action and subsequent return. Resentment, judgmental attitude, distrust and the culture of complaint and comparison become the subtle ways of rebellion and rejecting the love of the Father. In a sense, the elder bother’s ‘lostness’ is much closer to home.

If you’re like me, and you can begrudgingly relate to the older brother more than you’d care to admit, then I want to say that there is hope. Nouwen observed and experienced that we can only relate to God the Father through our true elder brother Jesus. That intimate oneness between the father and the son is available to each of us. Then, we can hear in radical trust and gratitude the Father’s words afresh each day:

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.  262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.
262 cm × 205 cm. Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg



My son,

you are always with me

and everything I have is yours.

AUTHOR: Adrian Taylor

I'm a third generation strawberry plant propagator, sometimes poet, backyard theologian and part-time mystic. I live in Katikati, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand with my wife Lucy, my son Sam, and daughters Coby and Caris. I enjoy social soccer with the lads and finely crafted IPA.

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