Monday, June 1, 2009

Rembrandt & Reconciliation

Class, this painting was done a few centuries ago by an artist named Rembrandt. He was Dutch, so what country did he live in? Holland? Yes. What is Holland famous for? Windmills! .....Wooden shoes! Yes, geniuses!

Rembrandt painted lots of Bible stories, like this one. Can you guess the story? No? Actually it's a picture of one of Jesus' parables, the Prodigal Son. I like this painting because it reminds me of how I feel when I go to confession. Y'all have heard the story before, and now you're gonna hear it again, but with cartoons. Won't that be all the fun you can stand?

(I draw two faces, but without mouths) This is the Prodigal Son and his Father. Where are their mouths? I'll put some in later. Let's listen as Jesus tells the story:

"There was a man who had two sons. 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."

What do you call it when a parent's property is divided among the children? Inheritance? Yes, the part each child (usually they're adults, like the Prodigal son) gets is his inheritance. Do my kids have their inheritance yet? Ha, no. How do you know? Because you're not dead yet. Yes; a father's estate doesn't get divided among the kids 'til he's dead. So how would the father feel when the son asks for his inheritance? Sad. (I put a sad mouth on the Father) Yes, the Son can't wait around for his Father to die so he can get the goodies. But the Father goes ahead and gives the Son his share, which today might be a million dollars or so. How does the son feel? He feels great! (I put a happy mouth on the Son) He's an ingrate, but he feels great (haw!); I bet he has tons of self-esteem, but not a lick of self-respect. He's very proud of himself, and all the money he has that he didn't earn.

Then Jesus says: "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." What's that mean, to "squander property in reckless living?" To waste all his money! Yes, but how? Buying lots of stuff, cars and things! Yes, and probably getting drunk, gambling and behaving badly with women like King David did...what today we might call Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll. What's wrong with Rock'n'Roll? Well, sometimes it's ok; other times, especially if people aren't behaving well, it can make it easier to behave even worse. Like what? Like, ask your parents; this isn't a Rock'n'Roll class. It's a Learn About God class.

By the way, 'prodigal' means 'wastefully extravagant.' He just blew that money right out the window! Do you think the Son would've done that if he'd earned the money himself? No! That's right! You should always carefully spend the money you're given as though you had to work for it yourself.

Then Jesus says: "After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he was hungry. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the swill that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything."

How does the younger Son feel now? Sad. You bet he does (I erase the Son's smile, replace it with a sad mouth). Who does he feel sad for? Himself. Yes. And notice how Jesus says "no one gave him anything." The only person we know who gave him anything was his Father, who loves him. But he was mean to his Father, so too bad for him now.

Then Jesus says: "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men."

Now this is starting to look a lot like Confession. The son realizes he's sinned against his Father; we'd say he's examined his conscience. And he decides to go confess his sin to his Father. And why is he doing this, why does he now realize he's offended his father? Because he's hungry! Yes, he's still thinking about himself, but he's thinking about his father as well, so that's progress. And is he still prideful? No, he's humble. Yes. That's progress, too. And he knows he doesn't deserve to be treated like a son since he's already wolfed down his big slice of pie in one huge bite. How's he gonna pay all that money back? He can't! That's right! A million bucks flushed down the toilet, squoosh! So he can't make amends! What's the only thing he can hope for? That his father will forgive him. Yes; the Son doesn't want justice. He wants what? Forgiveness! Yes, he wants a merciful Father. As we say, "Have mercy on me Lord, a sinner."

Then Jesus says: "So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."

I think the Father is surprised his Son is even alive, and runs out to hug and kiss him. How does the Father feel? Happy! Yes (Father now smiles) But isn't the Father the offended party? Yes. So why is he glad to see his good-for-nothing-blow-a-million-bucks younger son? 'cause he loves him anyway. Yes....and who is the father thinking about? His son! Yes. If he thinks about himself, and how thoughtless his Son had been to him how would he feel? Sad. Yes.

Now, does the Father know the Son's sin, how the son offended him? Yes! Can he tell the Son is as sorry as he can be? Yes! But instead of saying, "hush now, you don't have to apologize," he lets the Son confess his sin out loud, even though he already knows what he's going to say. Just as we do in Confession, the younger Son repeats out loud his Examination of Conscience: "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son." Why does the father let the Son confess? So the Son will feel better! Yes. Confessing our sins out loud to a priest isn't for God's benefit...who's it for? It's for us. Yes. And who is the Son thinking about? His Father. Yes...a little about himself too; he's miserable, who can blame him?

Now let's look at Rembrandt's painting. The poor Son is exhausted by his sins and his guilt. His shoes are falling apart; he's penniless. Just a poor, forlorn sinner like me. This is just how I feel when I'm in Confession and the priest tells me Jesus has forgiven my sins. The Son looks peaceful and relieved and sorry all at once. And the father is patient and affectionate....he can stand there and comfort his Son and welcome him home for as long as the Son needs him to. Rembrandt painted this when he was old and near death. He's showing how he hoped God would forgive him his sins.

OK, back to the story; Jesus says: "...the Father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

So the Son, having confessed, is forgiven by the Father, who restores him to an even better situation than before he left, as we'll see in a minute. At this point how does the Son feel? Happy! Yes, maybe happier than he's ever been. (happy mouth on the Son). And the Father? He's happy too! (two happy faces). And the Father is thinking about...the Son! And the Son....his Father! Yes, they're not selfish, but.....selfless! Yes. I draw an arrow from each face toward the other face to show this.

Now Jesus says: "So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field...and he heard music and dancing. A servant said 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound. The older brother became angry and refused to go in the house."



And who's this (I draw a new face)? The older son. Which person is he in the painting? The man on the right. Yes, both he and his father are wearing red, an expensive color. Who're the other people? Servants probably. Does the older Son look happy his brother is home? No, he's mad. (I add the sad mouth and angry eyebrows)

"So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends." Now, who is the older Son thinking about? Himself. Yes. I draw an arrow from his face that curves back around to his face.

Then the Father says: "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because your brother was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found." And let's see...who's happy? The Father and the younger Son. And who are they thinking about? Each other! And the older Son is...thinking about himself! and....is unhappy. Yes.

Now the older Son is a problem for most people: he's obeyed his Father, isn't it reasonable for him to be annoyed? Maybe so....but my guess is he's like most of us. I say, oooh, that Prodigal Son, he was so bad. He needed to apologize big time to his Dad. But me, I've never been that bad, I don't need to apologize, I do what God wants. But like me, the older Son is a sinner, too. He has things he should apologize for to his Father; we all do (even saints). But he wants to focus on his brother's sins. That way he can keep his pride, and not have to examine his conscience; he'd rather examine his brother's conscience. He doesn't want to apologize out loud like his brother. Plus he sees his father and younger brother are closer than they used to be....he's jealous of that, but doesn't want do what's necessary to have that closer relationship with his Dad: to admit out loud he's sinned, too. It's harder for him to ask forgiveness for his small sins than for his younger brother to apologize for his big ones. So the lesson we learn from the older brother is as important as the one we learn from the younger one. Sometimes I'm like the younger Son: I know I need forgiveness. Sometimes like the older Son: I've been pretty good, I don't need any forgiveness, I haven't been that bad. But God doesn't care how big your sins are; he cares that you repent and confess your sins out loud so He can forgive you.

And we're made of what...? Bodynsoul! Yes, we have two natures: spiritual and...physical! So we need to confess spiritually and....physically! Yes, so God can forgive us spiritually and.....physically! And in Confession, how do we get physical forgiveness? The priest tells us we're forgiven! Yes, right in our ears. Just like King David heard the words of forgiveness from Nathan's mouth.

This is a great gift, sons & daughters, but we have to use it: to confess, repent, and be forgiven even our worst sins through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You can even bring Rembrandt's painting with you.

4 comments:

W. said...

You might enjoy Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son.

I am not a big reader of his works, only a few, but I liked this one.

kkollwitz said...

You might enjoy Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son.

Ha! Thank you for the recommendation. Oddly enough I discovered and read the book a year or so ago. I found it when I was searching Google for a good image of the painting to use in my class.

Home Sweet Home said...

Brilliant as always, Christian. You rock.

Gretchen said...

Wow, it is intriguing to think of the parable as a lesson in confession!