Henri J. M. Nouwen uses his viewing of Rembrandt's painting "The Return of the Prodigal Son" as a spur to his spiritual meditation on the rich treasure trove of meanings in the most important parable in the New Testament. He says of this extraordinary work of art:
"I came to see Rembrandt's Prodigal Son as, somehow, my personal painting, the painting that contained not only the heart of the story that God wants to tell me, but also the heart of the story that I want to tell to God and God's people. All of the Gospel is there. All of my life is there. All of the lives of my friends is there. The painting has become a mysterious window through which I can step into the Kingdom of God. It is like a huge gate that allows me to move to the other side of existence and look from there back into the odd assortment of people and events that make up my daily life."
Nouwen's interpretive skills shine as he ponders each of the persons in the parable, Rembrandt himself, Jesus, and his own experiences. He is especially cogent in his commentary on the resentful and judgmental elder son. Best of all, Nouwen helps us to see how imperative it is for us to identify with the compassionate father. But in the end, he realizes the tension that Rembrandt evokes in the painting:
"There is not only the light-filled reconciliation between the father and the younger son, but also the dark, resentful distance of the elder son. There is repentance, but also anger. There is communion, but also alienation. There is the warm glow of healing, but also the coolness of the critical eye; there is the offer of mercy, but also the enormous resistance against receiving it."