Always a welcome

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

Do you ever stop and look your life and wonder how things have got to where they are? There was a time when you were at peace with the world, content in your own skin, aware that you are living in the shelter of the most high.

Now your life is stressful, your marriage isn’t what it used to be, you’re not happy in your place of work and the kids are troublesome. And yet you can’t put your finger on a time or place when the slide to chaos began.

If you could, maybe you could put things right - you think. I know the feeling!

I often think that the reason why I’m so fond of the parable known as the Prodigal Son is that I so easily empathise with the boy. He was ambitious, energetic, didn’t want to be like the others. He wanted change and he wanted to drive that change. Maybe he was an entrepreneur, wasn’t impressed by the prospect of living off his father’s achievements.

He wanted to stand on his own feet, until it all went horribly wrong, and his older brother said, ‘I told you so.’

There are three main characters in Jesus’s parable: the father, the boy known as the prodigal and then there’s the older brother.

One of my favourite books in my library is by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest. The book is entitled, The Return of the Prodigal Son. The cover of the book is a depiction of all three as they appear in Rembrandt’s famous painting of the same name. First is the father, and the odd thing about the painting that Nouwen draws attention to is the father’s hands as he stands with his returned son at his feet . You can see both his hands, but one is the hand of a man, the other is the hand of a woman, making the point that God is neither male nor female, rather he, or she has characteristics of both genders. Hence Genesis could say, ‘God created mankind in his own image, male and female created he them.’

Then there was the older brother: probably a good man, solid, reliable, predictable, but in Rembrandt’s painting he stands against the wall, haughty, judgemental and self righteous. Reminiscent of the Pharisee in Jesus’s other story who stood in the temple near to the publican, the ‘sinner’, and prayed, ‘Thank you Lord that I am not like him!’

And of course there’s the boy himself, the prodigal. Broken, humiliated, in the picture he has one shoe missing and clothes torn and dirty as he kneels before a loving father. Who knows what was going on in his mind, until the father said, ‘Kill the fattened calf, the one I have been keeping for this moment.’

I suppose if we’re honest we can see reflections of ourselves in each of them, but which of the three reminds me most of me? Well, when I feel that my ‘wheel has come off’ (again), it’s the prodigal I have most in common with. Reminds me of Dick Emery, do you remember? ‘Dad. I think I’ve got it wrong again dad!’

Let me encourage you, when you feel that your life is lying in tatters at your feet. Ask yourself the question, when was I last happy? And get back there, back to the Father’s house. You know he’ll kill the fattened calf, he’ll put a ring on your finger to symbolise that you were, you are and you will always be his son.