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The Return of the Prodigal Son

The Return of the Prodigal Son

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The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen

A chance encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son catapulted Henri Nouwen on a long spiritual adventure. Here he shares the deeply personal and resonant meditation that led him to discover the place within which God has chosen to dwell.

In seizing the inspiration that came to him through Rembrandt’s depiction of the powerful Gospel story, Henri Nouwen probes the several movements of the parable: the younger son’s return, the father’s restoration of sonship, the elder son’s vengefulness, and the father’s compassion. In his reflection on Rembrandt in light of his own life journey, the author evokes the powerful drama of the parable in a rich, captivating way that is sure to reverberate in the hearts of readers. The themes of homecoming, affirmation, and reconciliation will be newly discovered by all who have known loneliness, dejection, jealousy, or anger. The challenge to love as the father and be loved as the son will be seen as the ultimate revelation of the parable known to Christians through time, and here represented with a vigour and power fresh for our times.

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Additional information

Weight 0.22 kg
Dimensions 21 × 14 × 1.3 cm


  1. I have read this book several times now, and each time been challenged afresh by its depth and insight. It is a very readable book, profound and yet so simple. It describes the powerful impact on Nouwen of Rembrandt’s painting, ‘The Return of the Prodigal’ and the spiritual journey that unfolded as he meditated on the parable illustrated by the masterpiece.

    Nouwen’s exploration touches on the deepest desires of our human spirits: to be embraced by love, to know acceptance, to be cherished, to know homecoming, rest, safety, forgiveness. This yearning often conflicts with those compulsions, fears and anxieties that drive us to run away ‐ physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Nouwen reflects on each character and scene in the parable: the younger son’s rejection of his home and roots, and his subsequent homecoming and restoration; the elder son’s insecurity, jealousy and vengefulness; and the father’s love and compassion for both of his sons.

    Sermons about the Prodigal Son, often focus on the rebellion of the younger son, and the need for ‘unbelievers’ to repent and have faith. Having accompanied Nouwen on his reflective journey with this painting, it struck me that the Elder Son is also a prodigal. His ‘lostness’ is harder to reach because wedded to his desire to be dutiful, acceptable, and ‘good’ is what Nouwen describes as a ‘moralistic intensity’. He sees his brother as a rival for the love of his father and others, and so everything is a proving ground, whereby his identity is derived from being better, more deserving. I personally found this the most challenging aspect of the book as it describes the snares along my own faith journey of trying to be ‘respectable’, liked, accepted, and so failing to be authentic.

    The book ends with a challenge to love as the father and be loved as the son; to come home, and welcome others as they arrive.

    Review by Anita Haigh

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