Each one of you is to ponder the Lord’s law day and night and keeping vigil at your prayers unless attending to some other duty.
— Rule of Carmel

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways, but in these last days God has spoken to us by a Son, whom God appointed heir of all things, through whom God also created the universe.”  (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Jesus, in the fullness of God, created the universe; in the fullness of his humanity he needed to learn to walk, to learn his trade as a carpenter, and if history had been different, he would have taught his son.  I think this is also true of his knowledge of the Father.  With that in mind I propose a parallel of two sons…the younger son and Jesus.  In some ways their story is very different; at another level it is similar.

Both received their inheritance, the wealth of the Father.

o   …  the Father divided the property between them.

o   “This is my beloved Son, the Beloved, my favor rests on him.” [We receive our inheritance at our baptism.]

Both took their inheritance and left on a journey.

o   The younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country.

o   … Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the wilderness.

Both used what they had received to sustain them on that journey.

o   There he squandered his inheritance. // to be tempted by the devil ...

o   That country experienced a great famine.  // He fasted for forty days and forty nights and he was hungry.

o   No one gave him anything to eat// “… turn these stones into bread loaves.”  Jesus replied, “Man does not eat by bread alone.”

Both, at the end of the journey, experienced the merciful love of the Father.

o   “Quick, bring out the best robe, and put it on him, put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Bring the calf we have been fattening and kill it; we are going to have a feast.”

o   … and angels appeared and looked after him.

Both did “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord”(the Father). (Psalm 34:8) [Antiphon, Responsorial Psalm, fourth Sunday of Lent.]

Jesus was able to tell this story because of his own experience at his Baptism, of his total identification with us throughout his life.  “For our sake he made him to be sin…”(2 Corinthians 5:21). He knew the longing of his Father for him, … his warm embrace … and his own longing for the Father.


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Therefore, on this ‘Laetare’ (rejoice) Sunday and in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy, let’s make our own the invitation of Pope Francis: ‘Let us entrust ourselves totally to the Father. Let our shoulders of people on our knees be caressed, like those of the prodigal son, by the hands of the Father, whose paternal love is directed to each of us as mercy, that is, as love of God, who leans upon the sinner, the weak and the needy. In this way we can experience the joy of being loved by this ‘God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and rich in love and faithfulness’.
— Pope Francis

The longer I look at ‘the patriarch,’ the clearer it became to me that Rembrandt had done something quite different from letting God pose as a wise old head of a family. It all began with the hands. The two are quite different. The father’s left hand touching the son’s shoulder is strong and muscular. The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son’s shoulder and back. I can see a certain pressure, especially in the thumb. That hand seems not only to touch, but, with its strength, also to hold. Even though there is a gentleness in the way the father’s left hand touches the son, it is not without a firm grip.

How different is the father’s right hand! This hand does not hold or grasp. It is refined, soft, and very tender. The fingers are close to each other and they have a elegant quality. It lies gently upon the son’s shoulder. It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother’s hand.
— Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, p. 98f.