And now we come to the climax of Jesus’ parabolic trilogy on grace. After the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin, Jesus tells us the parable of a Prodigal Son who runs off and squanders his early inheritance on his own pleasures only to come back home begging for food and shelter. Rather than being angry with the son, the father runs out to meet him and welcomes him home with a great feast. The gem in the story is more about the father than the son. He is just as wasteful, or “prodigal,” with his grace and love as the son is with money. How much more has our Heavenly Father continued to pour grace upon our lives, time and time again?
This painting depicts the father rushing to embrace his returning son. It shows a clash of two realities. The left side of the painting, the side of the son, is dusty and dead. The right side, from where the father comes, is full of light and life. The father’s love overwhelms the brokenness of the son. The pitiful, weeping, son collapses into the embrace of his father who is wrapping him up to protect, comfort, and sustain. The sweeping robe does more than illustrate movement. They are also abstract symbols of fire and water. For it is in the baptism of water and spirit that we know we belong to God. We are loved, forgiven and renewed by God’s Grace. This painting especially depicts the emotions of the father. He is painted older, to accentuate wisdom. While his left hand sweeps strongly, his right hand gently comforts. In his face, you can see the parental mix of emotions. A smile of happiness tempered with a bitter-sweet empathy for what his child has been though.
May this painting serve as a reminder to us all that we belong to a prodigally loving God who continues to allow us to make our own decisions, painfully knows how we squander our blessings, and patiently waits, looking for our return. And when we DO return, our God comes running to us full of joy and forgiveness to overwhelm our broken lives and restore us with a smothering embrace of love and grace.