“Go out and prove that you are worth something”

Nouwen's book examines Jesus' parable through the lens of this Rembrandt painting. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Nouwen’s book examines Jesus’ parable through the lens of this Rembrandt painting. (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

A friend recommended I read Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son in preparation for my two sermons on the subject. I thought I could skim it quickly and be done with it—having already formed a rough outline in my head of Sermon #2.

Yeah, right!

I knew right away that this book is special—just profoundly moving. Nouwen sees himself clearly in both the younger and older sons, even as he aspires to see himself in the loving, compassionate father.

In the following excerpt, he describes ways in which we, like the younger son, resist the voice of our heavenly Father who calls us his Beloved, in order to follow other voices. Nouwen describes my struggle perfectly. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

But there are many other voices, voices that are loud, full of promises and very seductive. These voices say, “Go out and prove that you are worth something.” Soon after Jesus had heard the voice calling him the Beloved, he was led to the desert to hear those other voices. They told him to prove that he was worth love in being successful, popular, and powerful. Those same voices are not unfamiliar to me. They are always there and, always, they reach into those inner places where I question my own goodness and doubt my self-worth. They suggest that I am not going to be loved without my having earned it through determined efforts and hard work. They want me to prove to myself and others that I am worth being loved, and they keep pushing me to do everything possible to gain acceptance. They deny loudly that love is a totally free gift. I leave home every time I lose faith in the voice that calls me the Beloved and follow the voices that offer a great variety of ways to win the love I so much desire.[†]

Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming (New York: Image, 1994), 40.

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