LENT: Saturday of the Second Week in Lent, by Henri J. M. Nouwen

From Show Me The Way

I will leave this place and go to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired men.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was  moved with pity.  He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him. (Luke 15:18-20)

This is a story about returning.  I realize the importance of returning over and over again.  My life drifts away from God.  I have to return.  Returning is a lifelong struggle.

It strikes me that the wayward son had rather selfish motivations. He said to himself, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger!  I will leave this place and go to my father.”  He didn’t return because of a renewed love for his father.  No, he returned simply to survive.  He had discovered that the way he had chosen was leading him to death.  Returning to his father was a necessity for staying alive.  He realized that he had sinned, but this realization came about because sin had brought him close to death.

I am moved by the fact that the father didn’t require any higher motivation.  His love was so total and unconditional that he simply welcomed his son home.

This is a very encouraging thought.  God does not require a pure heart before embracing us.  Even if we return only because following our desires has failed to bring happiness, God will take us back.  Even if we return because being a Christian brings us more peace than being a pagan, God will receive us.  Even if we return because our sins did not offer as much satisfaction as we had hoped, God will take us back.  Even if we return because we could not make it on our own, God will receive us.  God’s love does not require any explanations about why we are returning.  God is glad to see us home and wants to give us all we desire, just for being home.

In my mind’s eye, I see Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son.  The dim-eyed old father holds his returned son close to his chest with an unconditional love.  He seems to think only one thing: “He is back home, and I am so glad to have him with me again.”

*****

The voice of despair says, “I sin over and over again.  After endless promises to myself and others to do better next time, I find myself back again in the old dark places.  Forget about trying to change.  I have tried for years.  It didn’t work and it will never work.  It is better that I get out of people’s way, be forgotten, no longer around, dead.”

This strangely attractive voice takes all uncertainties away and puts an end to the struggle.  It speaks unambiguously for the darkness and offers a clear-cut negative identity.

But Jesus came to open my ears to another voice that says, “I am your God, I have molded you with my own hands, and I love what I have made.  I love you with a love that has no limits, because I love you as I am loved.  Do not run away from me.  Come back to me – not once, not twice, but always again.  You are my child.  How can you ever doubt that I will embrace you again, hold you against my breast, kiss you and let my hands run through your hair?  I am  your God – the God of mercy and compassion, the God of pardon and love, the God of tenderness and care.  Please do not say that I have given up on you, that I cannot stand you any more, that there is no way back.  It is not true.  I so much want you to be with me.  I so much want you to be close to me.  I know all your thoughts.  I hear all your words.  I see all of your actions.  And I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love.  Do not judge yourself.  Do not condemn yourself.  Do not reject yourself.  Let my love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but which will become visible to you again in the light of my mercy.  Come, come, let me wipe your tears, and let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.'”

This is the voice that Jesus wants us to hear.  It is the voice that calls us always to return to the one who has created us in love and wants to re-create us in mercy.

Prayer

O Lord, my Lord,
help me to listen to your voice
and to decide for your mercy.
Amen.

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