Are you familiar with this painting? It’s a classic. If you wanted to see the original, you would need to visit the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the giant painting resides. It was painted by Rembrandt, a famous and really the last of the great renaissance painters. This painting depicts a pretty famous story, the prodigal son.
Jesus uses a trilogy of parables
In Luke 15, Jesus tells a series of stories. He is identifying some key principles about what it is to be in relationship to him and what it is to be valued by God, but he does it in parables.
- The first one he tells is about a lost sheep and how the shepherd leaves the 99 sheep that he has to go and find the one lost sheep. He finds it and brings it home. When he does, everybody celebrates. There is a huge party.
- The next story is about a widow who has lost some precious coins. She cleans out her entire house, and when she finds them, she steps out of her house and everybody celebrates. The entire community is so happy that she has found these lost coins.
- The third story builds on this idea of what is precious to God and starts to dig into relationships. The famous story of the prodigal son.
You’re probably familiar with this story
We see it in Luke 15:11-32. When most people tell the story of the prodigal son, they focus on the first son. He comes to his father who is a very wealthy landowner and says to him, “Father, I would like my inheritance now.” This is an absolutely absurd request. He is essentially saying, “Father, you’re as good to me dead as anything else, so why don’t we act like you are dead and you go ahead and give me what I desire, which is the wealth. I want the stuff; Give me my inheritance.”
So, the father sells some land and can give his son his inheritance, and the son immediately packs up all of his stuff and he goes off to a distant land where he begins to live the high-life. He has parties, lots of friends, for the time being, lots of attention from women, and lots of exciting times until the money disappears. The friends, the women, the fun times all disappear. Nobody is there to help him up, but they are willing to be helped up by him.
They are willing to consume him the way he was willing to consume what his father gave him.
The whole way on this great journey, this great walk home with his clothes all tethered he is preparing to tell his father that he is not his son but his servant. In the painting, we see that the father has run out to meet the son and he throws his arms around him. Before the son can fully utter, “I am not worthy to be your son. I’ve sinned against you and Heaven. I’ll be your servant. I’ll be your slave.”, the father is throwing his arms around the son, putting a ring on his finger and a robe on his body.
Rembrandt was a great art prodigy
Everybody knew his art from an early age. He was born in 1609 AD in the Netherlands and died in 1669 AD. It wasn’t a very long life, but it was a life of incredible ups and incredible downs. He was one of the wealthiest young and upcoming artists that there was around. People loved to say, “I’ve got the latest Rembrandt!”, or talk about how they commissioned Rembrandt. So, he would take their money, but he struggled like the younger son because he scoffed at the people who were paying him. He didn’t like their expectations and often took liberties in the paintings.
One such liberty became a trademark, that is placing himself in almost every painting he painted. He was incredibly vain and prideful. He knew he was good. He focused on how good he was and essentially went off and did his own thing. In the process though, he squandered a ton.
- He went through multiple relationships with women.
- His wife died, as did most of the children that he had with her. The second woman in his life he had placed in an insane asylum because she was causing him problems.
- He was ruthless.
- He went through times of incredible poverty. Like many artists of his day, he had amassed this great wealth of other people’s art to study and learn from. He had to sell all of those works of art and all of his own art to pay off his debts.