Monday, 29 June 2015
The Prodigal Father (2)
In my last installment I reflected on The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henry Nouwen. Nouwen noted that he saw himself in both the elder son and the younger prodigal son. Nouwen sees how his have been reflected in the prodigal, “In a spiritual sense, I found myself squandering all I had been given by my father to keep the friendship alive. I couldn’t pray and longer. I had lost interest in my work and found it increasingly hard to pay attention to other people’s concern.”
Nouwen also finds the elder son in himself. As he describes it, “ The obedient and dutiful life of which I am proud or for which I am praised feels, sometimes, like a burden that was laid on my shoulders and continues to oppress me, even when I have accepted it to such a degree that I cannot throw it off”.
Nouwen discovered that he not only identified with both sons but it also dawned on him that he could aspire to be like the father. He realized as a beloved son of God the Father he was called to aspire to be like the father. Now this could be thought of as trying to be God like. People certainly have been guilty of that and will continue to do that. However, he saw what it meant for him to aspire to be like God the father was to be compassionate. Nouwen states that the most radical statement Jesus made was, “Be compassionate as your father is compassionate”.
Nouwen’s vision of living that aspect of God is a vision of love. This is the core message of the Gospel. We are called to show our mercy, our compassion for others and for the world as God shows compassion; God’s all-embracing love for God’s creation. For Nouwen, this means that to live a life of compassion it cannot be one that is based on competition. Rather it must be one of cooperation. Nouwen freely admits that this is far from easy. He confesses, “Against my own best intentions, I find myself continually striving to acquire power. When I give advice, I want to know whether it will be followed; when I offer help, I want to be thanked; when I give money, I want it to be used my way; when I do something good I want to be remembered”.
I can in no way claim that I do not want—no deeply desire— all those things that Nouwen confesses to. That is the problem. They are natural for people to want these things. That is why the message of Jesus— to be merciful as your Father is also merciful; to love one another as he loves us—is so radical. That is why—at least in large part, why Jesus was crucified by the powers of this world—by the civil powers of the Roman Empire and the religious powers that controlled the life centered on the temple. We know that when we try to live as Jesus commands us we are going to fail. However, we are called to try. We need to try to give without expecting to receive. Try to imagine what it would like to do that—giving joyfully without any expectation of receiving anything. .. We are called to do good without being motivated to have that act acknowledged in the world. We know that we are going to fail, to fall into sin—do those things that separate us from God. However, we also have the assurance that our sins will be forgiven. We have the assurance that God’s love for us is not conditional on living a perfect life without sin. Otherwise none of us would be loved and we know that God does love us. Thanks be to God.