Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son

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Rembrandt, “The Return of the Prodigal Son,” c. 1661
“And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. 13 Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. 14 And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to  one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
17 “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.”
Luke 15:11-24, ESV

Two hundred and eighty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 289 words reveal to us a God who loves far too much, way too easy— and maybe far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son– at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense. But we find that is legalism talking.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, and some of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the filthy slop buckets for something to eat.

Many of us will understand his despair. Often there comes to us a crystalline moment of broken wisdom. The prodigal, sin-crusted and impoverished, still has a lingering memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him right now. Sometimes I wonder if in our captivity, we instinctively want to go home, if only in our minds, to be a servant there.

The Father has dreamed of this precise moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” The Father is a whirlwind of agape love. In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more. It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring some observations: 
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  • We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture.
  • The son’s head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. We must enter the kingdom like little children. 
  • The Prodigal Son seems to be protected by his father. He snuggles near the Father’s breast. It’s love that holds him there.
  • Consider his sandals. It has taken a long time for him to come home. 
  • Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for his brother.
  • We see his mother in the background in the painting, and a seated steward or counselor. One stands in profound joy, the other in sits in stunned perplexity.

Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerably younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is a charming young man at the height of his popularity, and we see him at a happy party. He is spending the inheritance of his father.

But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting now the spiritual condition.

We are given a work that some critics call as the greatest painting ever completed. The painting is now in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is seldom seen by visitors. It is a clear echo of the grace of God for fallen men and women. Like the father in the painting, He’s ready to forgive every sin saturated son and daughter.

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Empty, Broken, Here I Stand [Kyrie Eleison]


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Quite a few years ago, I journeyed from off the beaten path in Alaska to Cambridge, England. It was there I somehow found myself on the streets talking to myself; alone, disoriented and quite lost. It was June of 2002 and I had just been released from a mental hospital in Alaska, and was under the care of a psychiatrist, I headed out without his approval. But here I was now all alone in a country I had never visited before. My confusion was profound. I was desperately, mentally ill.

I noticed the stares and the whispers as wandered the streets. Or maybe it was just my raging paranoia. But yet there’s more. Much more.  On just a mildly benign occasion I wandered into the English version of a Wal-mart. I was in a dreary daze, but I thought I ‘heard’ a 5 foot bush call out  as I walked by. I just knew my calling was a prophet. I was Moses. Who also heard God from a bush! 😇 (Exodus 3:2).

My chosen, eternal destiny was to save it. I grabbed and scootched it toward the check-out line. After a few minutes the bush was insanely heavy and I saw that the line was very long. After some time I finally abandoned the tree in the middle of the check-out line. It seems I did have some moments of clarity, even at my strangest. It was a weird experience. (What can I say, I’m a sucker for talking bushes.) 

I was told later that over hundred people were praying for me.

Finally, at my worst, I reached into my pack and there was this CD. I began to listen to it, and imperceptibly began to be restored to some semblance of sanity. My thinking was clearer and I would finally find my way back to where I was staying. One song on the CD in particular ministered to me. It’s called “Kyrie Eleison,” which is Latin for “Lord Have Mercy.” (The link below will take you there.)

Celtic-worship

THere it is on YouTube, https://youtube.com/watch?v=u4gCZc6CzLQ

Kyrie Eleison Lyrics

Verse 1
Empty broken here I stand,
Kyrie eleison,
Touch me with Your healing hand,
Kyrie eleison,
Take my arrogance and pride,
Kyrie eleison,
wash me in Your mercy’s tide,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus–
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 2
When my faith is all but gone,
Kyrie eleison,
Give me strength to carry on,
Kyrie eleison,
when my dreams have turned to dust,
Kyrie eleison,
In You O Lord I put my trust,
Kyrie eleison.

Chorus:
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie eleison,

Verse 3
When my heart is cold as ice,
Kyrie eleison,
Your love speaks of sacrifice,
Kyrie eleison,
Love that sets the captives free,
Kyrie eleison,
O pour compassion down on me,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 4
You’re the voice that calms my fears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the laughter dries my tears,
Kyrie eleison,
You’re the music, my refrain,
Kyrie eleison,
Help me sing my song again,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus

Verse 5
Humble heart of holiness,
Kyrie eleison,
Kiss me with Your tenderness,
Kyrie eleison,
Jesus, faithful Friend and true,
Kyrie eleison,
All I am I give to You,
Kyrie eleison.

Repeat Chorus 

THere it is on YouTube, https://youtube.com/watch?v=u4gCZc6CzLQ

 

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Lamb Followers

JC-Lamb“These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.”

Rev. 14:4

Distinctions are going to be made, whether we like it or not.  John saw a select group of people who were extraordinary in many ways.  Their particular badge of honor was their deep and insatiable desire for the Lamb.  They saw themselves as followers whose happiness was only manifested walking in the footsteps of the Lamb.

“Lamb-followers” are a rare breed.  They are not like others.  They draw all comfort and well being by being in close proximity with the Lord, and maintaining that as their primary purpose. They follow Him because they love Him before anything else. Jesus has truly become their first-love.

Scripture has some eccentricities at times.  In this verse Jesus specifically and precisely is identified as a Lamb.  It is perhaps a bit unusual, as Jesus is given so many titles, names and accolades in this Revelation of Jesus Christ given to the gentle disciple, John. But why “Lamb?” There certainly others more majestic, more stately and dignified.

The Lamb is following his Father, and we are following the Lamb.  The Lamb takes an interesting path.  He takes us on a tour of discipleship, and we follow him through difficult challenges and sweet blessings.  He is most gentle and kind.  But he has supreme power and complete authority.  And yet, he is a lamb. An all-powerful lamb.

This badge of honor is a mark of special grace.  Lamb-followers understand this, there is no pretension to any righteousness within their minds.  Everything they need has been graciously provided.  It is their exclusive position.  And He gives it to all who ask for it.

They carry this distinction without any self-awareness or conceit.  Their eagerness to be with him strips them of any foul contamination, or they could never travel in his path.  The Lamb teaches them patiently.  They learn to strip themselves of all vanity and fleshiness.

The Lamb has gone to the cross.  He has laid down all of his deity and all its various divine accouterments. He stripped himself down and became the least of everyone. Lamb-followers must walk this same path, and it is most challenging.  But the Lamb also has come to his throne, and we who follow share in his glory. But He must become our soul’s “first-love.”

 

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