This powerful meditation illuminates the parable of the prodigal son found in Luke's Gospel. Nouwen discovers anew the reality that God's love is unconditional and shares his own spiritual journey with us. In this audiobook, Nouwen shares his own experience as the wayward son as well as the vengeful older brother and the compassionate father. He speaks to all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger, and invites us to homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation.
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Most people who read this review will be familiar with the parable of “The Prodigal Son” - sometimes translated as “The Lost Son” - to be found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15. Jesus is delivering a stinging rebuke to the Pharisees and Scribes for accusing Him of receiving sinners and eating with them. In verses 11-32, He tells one of the most compassionate stories in the Bible. (Parables were allegorical stories that a mostly illiterate populace could easily understand.)
In brief, the story tells of the younger son in a family who demands his inheritance from his father. (Compare Deuteronomy 21:17.) This son leaves for a distant land, where he squanders all in debauchery, has to take up the work of herding swine, and is even reduced to hungering for the food of swine. He finally comes to his senses and decides to return home, if only to work for his father as a hired laborer. As he nears home, his father takes the positive step of welcoming him, even holding a feast. The older brother, who had remained at home working, resents the mercy shown. But the father says that they should rejoice because the son who was dead now lives.
In The Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming, Nouwen develops a chance encounter with Rembrandt’s magnificent painting of the same title into a personal spiritual odyssey. Inspired by the painting (he spent four days seated in front of the original in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage), he skillfully dissects each section of the powerful gospel drama in the light of his own life journey.
As the painting took on a personal resonance, he began to see in it the heart of the story that God wanted to tell him. The Prodigal Son became for Nouwen a mysterious window that exposed the kingdom of God in an intimate way. He was now able to see the fallen world through the eyes of God’s redeeming love… God as our forgiving Father. This introspection, as he pondered Rembrandt’s portrayal, eventually led him to living with and ministering to the mentally disabled.
He taught that it takes enormous energy to keep saying "no" to the world’s powers. Our hope lies in finding something so real and attractive that we can devote all our energies to saying "yes." That "something" is the fact that God continues to love us unconditionally, even in our brokenness….our addiction.
“Addiction" might be the best word to explain the lostness that so deeply permeates society. Our addictions make us cling to what the world proclaims as the keys to self-fulfillment: accumulation of wealth and power; attainment of status and admiration; lavish consumption of food and drink, and sexual gratification without distinguishing between lust and love. These addictions create expectations that cannot but fail to satisfy our deepest needs. As long as we live within the world's delusions, our addictions condemn us to futile quests in 'the distant country,' leaving us to face an endless series of disillusionments while our sense of self remains unfulfilled. In these days of increasing addictions, we have wandered far away from our Father's home. The addicted life can aptly be designated a life lived in ‘a distant country.’ It is from there that our cry for deliverance rises up.”
Nouwen invites believers to enter a deep, internal relationship with Jesus Christ where inner healing and disposal of psychological and emotional baggage are confessed as liberation.
In another part of the book, he relates:
“Each little step toward the center seemed like an impossible demand, a demand requiring me to let go one more time from wanting to be in control, to give up one more time the desire to predict life, to die one more time to the fear of not knowing where it all will lead, and to surrender one more time to a love that knows no limits.... I would never be able to live the great commandment to love without allowing myself to be loved without conditions or prerequisites.
“Herein lies the essence of the gospel: God is for us! It confronts us with the fact that… truly accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often much harder than giving it. It is the place beyond earning, deserving, and rewarding. It is the place of surrender and complete trust."
The Return of the Prodigal Son: a Story of Homecoming expresses Nouwen’s personal "homecoming" journey that answered his lifelong question of identity. Before he died in 1996 he discovered that he is the one Jesus loves unconditionally. His book carries the hopeful message that God’s healing love for us is always available — all we have to do is receive it.