The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

51tbvjtic4l-_sx324_bo1204203200_A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within where God has chosen to dwell.

In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt’s depiction of the powerful Gospel story, Henri Nouwen probes the several movements of the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of son-ship, the elder son’s vengefulness, and the father’s compassion. In his reflection on Rembrandt in light of his own life journey, the author evokes a powerful drama of the parable in a rich, captivating way that is sure to reverberate in the hearts of readers. The themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation will be newly discovered by all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger. The challenge to love as the father and be loved as the son will be seen as the ultimate revelation of the parable known to Christians throughout time, and here represented with a vigor and power fresh for our times.

For all who ask, “Where has my struggle led me?” or for those “on the road” who have had the courage to embark on the journey but seek the illumination of a known way and safe passage, this work will inspire and guide each time it is read.

7 thoughts on “The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

  1. Where to begin with Henri Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son? It’s about the parable of the prodigal son [naturally], the masterpiece that is Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, the life of Rembrandt, the spiritual journey of the author himself, and–above all–the story that we live out as children of Christ. In describing his own problems, Nouwen seemed to be writing an uncannily accurate account of the problems I face. I have a tendency to think that God’s love is something I should work to deserve, and when I fall short of perfection, it’s too easy to wallow in hopelessness and cynicism.

    But God’s love IS. We’re given the choice to accept or reject God’s love, meaning it’s there regardless of our repentance, inner/outer changes, works, and everything else.


  2. The most valuable insight I gleaned from this book was also the one that I completely looked over all the other times I both heard the parable and saw the painting: the call to be like the father. I identified too much with each of the sons that I forgot that ultimately Jesus’ telling of this parable and also Rembrandt’s painting are all calls to love and forgive like the father.


  3. I was shocked and amazed at how holistic this book was! Nouwen seamlessly transcends the boundaries between painter, painting, and viewer as he explores Rembrandt’s life and connects it to his most famous painting. The book describes, in detail, almost every aspect of the painting and explores the significance of its three most prominent characters: the younger son, the elder son, and the father. It ties in scripture and personal testimony to make a very strong argument for using the parable of the prodigal son as a guideline for your walk with God. Nouwen calls us to see ourselves as both the younger and elder son, while striving to become the father.

    This book really helped me hear God’s calling to become the father, to let go of my immaturities and selfishness to become the open arms welcoming God’s lost children home. It’s really confrontational but gentle at the same time in that it calls you to truth, but also assures you that you are forgiven and loved, just like the prodigal son.


  4. Nouwen examines the Return of the Prodigal Son painting by the Dutch painter Rembrandt and as he observes the classic painting, Nouwen discovers more and more about the nature of one of Jesus’s most famous parables, and thus discovers more about himself and, ultimately, God’s love. This book helped me to see more ways in which I am like the younger son and opened up my eyes that led me to repent for the ways in which I am like the older son, and helped me see even more, the depths of God’s love. From Nouwen’s descriptions, it became more clear to me how God pursues all of his children and will not rest until we are found. This book helped remind me how it was God who first chose me and allowed me to reconnect once again with the everlasting love of God.


  5. “The Return of the Prodigal Son” really went deep into the parable and the painting of the same name, revealing lessons for my relationship with God that I would not have reached on my own. I gained a greater understanding of the ways I relate to the younger and older sons, and how willing I am to be the younger son without admitting that I have played both roles in the past, and how both exist in me presently. But the greatest takeaway was from the epilogue, where Nouwen confessed his reluctance to step away from the dependence of a son on the Father to become the Father. Realizing my reluctance to embrace unconditional compassion is hopefully the first step in moving away from my mindset of always being a dependent son to reflecting the same unrelenting compassion that my Father first showed me.


  6. “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Henri Nouwen is an amazingly thorough unpacking of a parable that we are all familiar with. I remember that the passage of our first Klesis Sunday Service of the school year was on the prodigal son, and with the help of Nouwen’s incredible book, the story has resonated with me in new and refreshing ways. Before, I viewed each character as separate entities, unrelated and each meant to be tackled in completely distinct ways. While the chapters of the book are split by the characters, Nouwen shows how easy it actually is to spot my own sinful self in both brothers, with the greedy desires of the younger one overlapping with the self-righteousness of the older. And yet, even with all my issues and sins, God has called me to not dwell in my childhood but grow into becoming the Father that pours out unconditional compassion, a calling that I still can’t fathom. This shows how truly grateful I can be for God, who has already been that Father with his arms always open wide.


  7. After reading “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, I was able to see how I in reality fit both the shoes of the younger and the older sons. I once turned my back on God, and yet I have returned just like the younger son did. In the case of the older son, I see myself as the jealous and selfish sinner that I am. In these ways, the parable really struck me for who I actually was in reality and also how grateful I should be for God’s presence in my life.


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