Take a few moments to ponder this famous painting from Rembrandt of The Return of the Prodigal Son. What do you see from his interpretation of Luke 15:11-32? I was challenged by this idea after listening to a book called “Emotionally Healthy Discipleship” by Peter Scazzero.
Scazzero pointed out that the three main characters in the painting. At the center you have the loving father embracing the prodigal who is bald, broken, and humbly bowing as he seeks forgiveness for leaving the father for the empty pleasures of the world. But off to the right side you have the older brother dressed like the father, but full of scorn standing in judgement of the younger brother.
The painting and the passage highlighted to me all week that our Father in heaven is attracted to weakness! In the story, we are reminded that both sons are lost. One was drawn to the world for love the other was lured to works. Countless sermons have been preached on the prodigal, but not many on the older son who sought love with a striving, legalistic spirit, thinking some how by his efforts and works the father would love him.
The younger son “came to his senses” and in a picture of true repentance turned his face from the world back to the father. Hoping that the goodness of the father’s love would take him back if only as a servant. The older son was invited into the party and the father’s love. But we are left with the story ending with him remaining outside of the banquet hall in anger.
As I studied the picture I find myself in both the brothers. How often I have turned to the world for acceptance, to heal the pain, and seeking to please others in order to mask my own insecurity. And how often can I relate to the other brother possessing a religious spirit and striving to earn the Father’s love, failing to see it is not earned through effort, but weakness.
I’m trying to remember back to all my theological studies, which is difficult the older I get. But I don’t think we spent a lot of time talking about a theology of weakness. And yet the Bible is full of characters that were weak and broken. Noah got drunk, Moses had a temper, David loved the ladies, Elijah had depression, Rahab was a prostitute, and how about the flaws of the 12 disciples.
As I kept meditating on the picture above a question arose in my spirit, “where is Jesus in the painting?” For sure we see Him in the Father, as Jesus said, “when you see Me you see the Father,” (Jn. 14:9). But for the first time I saw Him in the prodigal. Jesus became weak, broken, and bore the filth of all my sin on His being. The culmination of the cruse came at the cross where He cried out “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The wounded, weak, sinless Savior took my sin with Him and experienced the depth of hell to heal the worst of sinners. But because of His humble submission the Father ran to Him and raised Him from the dead to be our King and forever Savior. Jesus became the prodigal to bring us into the loving arms of a Father who runs to all who embrace their weakness and need for the wounded Savior.
I still have both the prodigal and the older brother plague my soul at times. So in my weakness I daily have to turn back to the Father and let Jesus carry me back into His forgiving and loving arms.
“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble – Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” Jame 4:7-10