Nouwen on the Prodigal Son (Luke 15)

I am rereading Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son with a men’s group that meets on Thursday mornings at our church.  Two quotes particularly struck me this week.  The first challenges the often assumed complete interpretation of the parable.  Unfortunately too many Christians fall into the line of reasoning that Nouwen elucidated,

“If the only meaning of the story were that people sin but God forgives, I could easily begin to think of my sins as a fine occasion for God to show me his forgiveness.  There would be no real challenge in such an interpretation.  I would resign myself to my weaknesses and keep hoping that eventually God would close his eyes to them and let me come home, whatever I did.  Such sentimental romanticism is not the message of the Gospels.”  The Return of the Prodigal Son, pg. 123

While it is true that the story tells of radical forgiveness on the part of God for his wayward children, Nouwen calls us to consider our response to that forgiveness.  Do we use it as a means of sinning all the more and never striving to change?  God forbid.  The challenge is to move from sinful, licentious living, to grace-filled following of God which allows us to extend the same kind of grace and forgiveness that we ourselves have received in the arms of the Father.

The second quote addresses the reality of community life.

“Jealousy, anger, the feeling of being rejected or neglected, the sense of not truly belonging – all of these emerged in the context of a community striving for a life of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing.  Community life has opened me up to the real spiritual combat: the struggle to keep moving toward the light precisely when the darkness is so real…Teh community does not need yet another younger or elder son, whether converted or not, but a father who lives with outstretched hands, always desiring to let them rest on the shoulders of his returning children.” pg. 136, 137

As believers living in a church family, roommates living in a house together or a family abiding under the same roof, the call of community brings out the best and the worst in each of us.  When we live together, we rise to great heights of sacrificial love, but we also sink to great depths of demanding service.  The challenge is not to let others affect our emotions and patterns of life, but to let the love of the father flow through us in each and every interaction so that the life of Christ in us transcends the petty concerns (ours and others) of daily living and creates a community of love and sacrificial service.

How can this be done?  One way and one way only – we must pray and seek the face of God each and every moment of our lives so that whatever challenge presents itself in interpersonal relationship can be met with the word of God pregnant in our own lives ready to give birth in the moment.


About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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