The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt

Whenever we talk about the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32, we often focus on the story of the younger son and associate it with either non-believer who became Christian, or believers who came back to faith. Henri Nouwen in his book “The Return of the Prodigal Son” painted such a lively picture of the elder son and the father that changed my perspective of the story. Not only that, he’s turned the table around and walked in the shoe of both the sons and the father, not as a lost soul returning home, but as a spiritual prodigal son.

Starting with the younger son’s story, we know that he left home to seek a better life in the distant world. The distant world for him is greener grass, a better world. But HOME for the younger son meant all the good things, wealth, network, (remember, the parable says they have an estate, they must be quite well to do, or influential); home also came with reputation, inheritance, power that came with his last name. With all that he has why does he still seek greener grass? Like Nouwen, it made me realise that I can be a prodigal son too — a spiritual prodigal son. Even though I’m in the house of God, supposedly carrying a good self-image, and confidence that comes with my identity, but my heart is still trying to fill the gaps from other places, such as seeking affirmation from others, acceptance, or trying to prove my worthiness.

So then I asked the younger son in me, am I physically at home, but spiritually in the distant world?

It became such a great insight that to the younger son, being at home meant that he gets the benefits that are associated with the home and their last names, their wealth, background, network, inheritance, etc; To me, being spiritually at home meant that I carry God’s last name:

I can walk in the valley of darkness, and fear no evil.

I can cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils

I can receive freely and give freely.

I can confront, console, admonish, and encore without the fear of rejection or need for affirmation.

I can suffer persecution without a desire for revenge.

I can receive praise without using it as proof of my goodness.

I can be disliked or unfriended without ever having to doubt that the love that is given to me is stronger than that.

And then we look at the elder son, he has his own set of problems too. The elder son is happy to be home, he works hard on his father’s farm, he is obedient, he does what he’s told, and confident in his status. But like any eldest in the family, maybe you can resonate, he tends to have the behaviour of being afraid to disappoint his parents, try to do the right thing at all times, by doing everything by the book, and portray himself to be the responsible one, while the younger sibling lives a lustful lifestyle. Then, there are moments when you think, why do others get away with things so easily when they didn’t even put in 100% effort? Just like when the prodigal son return and the father restored his status and gave him the best of the best, even though the son has brought shame to the family. How unfair?

So then I asked the elder son in me, am I at home being dutiful and obedient, but resentful?

I find myself in so many situations where I’m like the elder son, I would think — why did others get the healing they ask for but me, they get rewarded for 10 times less effort compared to me. In the last many years, I’ve been praying and seeking God for one specific thing, but it has never come to pass, while at the same time I see dozens and dozens of friends get their prayers answered with no effort at all. Slowly I just become resentful and jealous.

Like the younger brother, I was looking across the ocean for greater things, at the same time I became like the elder brother, so focused on that greater thing, I became blinded to all the other goodness in the house I own too.

Through this story, I’m so awakened by the fact that I live in a palace, but I live like a pauper.

I have all the spiritual wealth in the storehouse but lived with a poverty mindset.

And what’s even funnier is that the key to the storehouse is just hung around my neck… but never used it. I’m sure you have similar experiences of rummaging through the house looking for an item, perhaps your sunglasses, and it had been resting on your head the whole time.

Finally, we have the father. We don’t talk about the father much in the story. But, I learnt that I should never stay as a son forever. We should grow up to one day become like the father, to embrace, forgive, guide, and give others that opportunity to come home as well.

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30 years gay Christian in the endeavour to anchor on truth in the faith and sexuality complexity.