The elder son usually gets little attention in discussions of this Bible story. Yet, Nouwen explains how both Rembrandt and Henri himself had part of the dark, resentful side of the “elder son” in them. Henri admits he understands the envy that the elder son feels toward his younger brother. The elder son lived an obedient and dutiful life. Yet when his brother came home, the elder son felt resentful, unkind, selfish and without joy. Neither the parable nor the Rembrandt story indicates whether the elder son finally reconciled himself to what was happening. Nouwen asks:
“Can the elder son in me come home? … How can I return when I am lost in resentment, when I am caught in jealousy, when I am imprisoned in obedience and duty [that is] lived out as slavery?” The answer, Henri says, can be found in living with gratitude as a discipline and not just in response to gifts or favors received. To live in gratitude is not only a discipline; it is a choice .
Reflect on the picture of the Elder son and put yourself in his place- What am I resentful, unkind, selfish about in my life- What is robbing me of joy?
Please note- This reflection is taken from the 5 week Reading Group discussion booklet published by the Henri Nouwen society. Please click here to get a copy of this guide.
Please click here to view the details of The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J. M. Nouwen