I’ve been Framed!
Greetings on the Fourth Sunday of Lent
Readings: JOS 5:9A, 10-12; PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7; 2 COR 5:17-21; LK 15:1-3, 11-32
Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn
It is fitting that this year is the 350th anniversary of the death of Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. One of Rembrandt’s most compelling pieces, his final painting, was the Return of the Prodigal Son. So much has been written about this invocative piece and the story of Rembrandt’s life. A very good read on the matter would be by Henri J. M. Nouwen with a title of the same name.
The centrality of the parable is the merciful forgiveness of the Lord and His call for our salvation and reconciliation with the divine and one another. The story does not end as fables do with a perfect and happy ending but rather with a moral dilemma. How will the younger son treat the older son? How will the older son treat the younger? The younger now safely in the house and celebrating while the older brother outside brooding over past wrongs.
The parable of the Prodigal Son is about salvation and the family life with its intertwined reality in the salvation of both sons. It is a question of superficiality. The older son is suddenly aware of his discontent. The younger son is oblivious to the older son and caring for only his own restoration. It’s a disaster in the making. And, yet, the Father knows and works to reconcile and embrace both his sons.
Servants, Hired Workers and Friends
And, now, what of the others namely the Servants, Hired Workers and Friends?
It is noteworthy that it is a servant who breaks the news to the older brother.
Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry…
Editorial note: no, he gave motion to his seething anger.
Pity the poor servant who had to break the news to the older brother. He no doubt knew the older sons true feelings. Or do you think everyone is fooled by his stoic mask? I am sure the servant hoped beyond hope the news would be accepted gladly. The servant wears the disinterested mask worn by those who know the pain of the older son’s violence. The servant was happy too for the master who is father-like to the hired workers giving more than enough food to eat.
Pity the friends of the older brother. Friends, true friends grieve over his estrangement from both his father and brother. True friends want to correct him but are fearful of his response. Consider his anger rage-fill response to the fathers pleading. ‘LOOK, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.’
Servant, hired worker and friend alike can see the mercy and forgiveness but for the movement of the soul of the older son.
We’ve Been Framed
Consider Rembrandt’s painting! See the drama of older and younger brother unfold before you. Clearly this is the central theme. Both father and son share the left center and the older brother commands the right center of the frame. The light is from an interior source – the hands and face of the father. The light embraces the younger son and casts a hopeful ray upon the older son who will have none of it.
But who else is in the frame. Who else sees but small flickers of light that they are visible at all.
Four onlookers stare at the scene. Henri Nouwen sees spectators. I see hearts pleading silently behind their frozen masks that the young son and the elder son would say yes to love. Two women looked at in faith are pining the scene before them is real not a fantasy and that this love light is for them too. It is generally understood that one is a daughter Cornelia and the other his spouse Saskia – who both preceded him in death.
Actually all his children save one daughter preceded him in death (son Rumbartus 1635, 1st daughter Cornelia 1638, 2nd daughter Cornelia 1640, wife Saskia 1642, unnamed son 1652, son Titus 1668). Rembrandt died in 1669. The servant with a vacuous look and relaxed pose of spectator is hiding behind the servant’s mask worn by those who have been abused by the elder son standing, no, Lording over him. And the flute player frozen in the wood work hoping this live will bring life to him as well.
The story of the Return of the Prodigal Son is about two Sons….. Plus everyone in the frame. This merciful love of the father taken with reconciliation would light up all the people in the frame.
Salvation has both a horizontal and vertical axis, yes?
Who is in your frame?
And so we conclude with the question. Who is in your frame?
What does your life portrait look like?
Who is in your darkened shadows?
How many are searching your eyes, hands, face for any sign of the love light that remains when one receives forgiveness with the heart of reconciliation.
Paint a new picture.