A guest post by Bill Downs
The parable of the prodigal son in Luke is a much loved and discussed teaching of Christ Jesus, and every time it’s included in the weekly lesson, I find some new aspect or inspiration about it.
Kim Shippey wrote an article for the November 18, 2002, Christian Science Sentinel, which introduced a marvelous little book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Father Henri Nouwen. In his book, Father Nouwen tells how he got much more meaning and understanding of this parable after viewing Rembrandt’s painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The three key characters are depicted with great attention to detail. The younger son is shown barefoot, in tattered clothes, being embraced by his loving, forgiving father, while the father’s face shines in focused light, exhibiting the compassion that is one of the key lessons of the parable. Meanwhile, the older son is looking on with obvious disapproval, dressed in finery, and standing apart.
Fr. Nouwen studied the painting at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. He then wrote his book recounting his feeling of awe, starting with his introduction to the painting via a reproduction on a poster, and later in person, as he spent hours sitting in front of the actual painting. A reader can’t help but want to see the original also, and perhaps experience some of what Fr. Nouwen shared in his book.
After I read Kim Shippey’s Sentinel article, I ordered the book. I appreciate Fr. Nouwen’s account of inspiration and insight from the depictions of the penitent younger son, the all-loving father, and finally the self-righteous older son.
I have shared the book and Sentinel article many times with others, including at a local Catholic Church. The Priest and the senior Nun were very interested in dialog with other local churches, mosques, and synagogues, and invited representatives of several local religious groups to take part in their evening event. Because I had been involved for years with planning interfaith panel discussions and other events for the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, I was able to help with their planning process as well. At the event, I spoke briefly about Christian Science, and introduced Mary Baker Eddy. I held up a copy of Science and Health and I told how Christian Scientists use it with the Bible. And I made clear that there is no relation to, or connection with, Scientology or Tom Cruise. I then introduced our periodicals, and in particular, the Sentinel article about Fr. Nouwen’s book, and told how much I appreciated the new insights to the parable of the prodigal son from reading both the article and the book.
After the religious discussion session, a business acquaintance and member of the host Catholic congregation came over to say hello. And he informed me that the men’s study group at the church had recently studied the same book and shared their own inspiration obtained from it!
If you haven’t read this article, or if you want to reread it, the new JSH-online has the entire Sentinel collection available online.
As a note, the above photo is not the Rembrandt that is mentioned in this article. You can view the Rembrandt painting by clicking here.