By Ric Webb
When you look at Rembrandt’s painting The Return of the Prodigal—the son with his head shaved, his clothes tattered and torn, no robe, his sandals bare to the sole—you see the picture of one who has been brought to the brink of despair. Broken and bleeding…and most of it within.
He makes the long “road to return” with nothing; he is absolutely empty: his money, his health, his honor, his self-respect, his stellar reputation, everything has been squandered.
The one and only thing he has left in this painting is the short sword hanging at his hips—the “badge of his nobility.” The sword is the symbol of his sonship. Even in the midst of his degeneracy and debasement he had clung to the truth—the simple, life-bringing truth that he was still the son of his father.
Though he came back a beggar and an outcast, he had not forgotten, like so many of us, the most important thing: he was still the sacred son of his father. It was when he remembered his sonship, and all the wealth it once held, all the power of this position, that “he came to his senses” (Luke 15:17a).
If you are a believer, where are you in this picture?
What is it you’ve forgotten about who you really are?
Can you hear the Father calling, “You belong to Me and always will. I love you…more than the life of My very own Son”?
The farther we run from communion with Christ and fellowship with the Father, the less able we are to hear the voice of the Spirit which calls us to the Beloved. And the less we listen to the voice of the Spirit, the more entangled we become in cosmic corruption, in the multi-tiered manipulations of the power-mad of this world.
One thing can set us free: the by-faith knowledge, the intimate understanding, that I am still—and always will be—a son or daughter of Almighty God, the treasured child of a perfect Father. Let the Spirit speak those words into your heart, and let them sink down, deep into the soul.
Listen to me closely. The Father’s love is passionate and pursuing. It is powerful and perfect. But it will not force itself into the life of the beloved. We must choose to respond to His initiation. We must decide for ourselves whether to accept it or reject it. God longs to heal us of all the darkness which resides in the substrata of our souls, but we are still free to stay there or step into the Light of His love. This much we can know for certain. God’s limitless love is always there, always ready to give and forgive, independent of our response. His love doesn’t depend on our remorse or repentance, on any change—either internal or external—we might make. God’s love is as unchanging as it is unending. So, whether you are the younger son or the older son, the reckless rounder or the self-righteous scoundrel, God’s only desire is to have you Home. If that’s not the perfect image of fatherhood, then none exists.
You are a child of God in whom Jesus dwells, and you are a citizen of your Father’s Kingdom. This is who you are and where you are, regardless of what may be raging around you or within you. Amen?
Ric Webb is the Pastor of Heart’s Journey in Little Rock, AR.