Read Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus, but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying, “This man welcomes sinners... Read More…
Meet Sister Magdalen Lawler
Sister Magdalen Lawler was born in London of Irish immigrant parents in early 1940 during the intensive BLITZ of London before the air defences were... Read More…
In Rembrandt’s master work entitled ‘The Return of the Prodigal’ which hangs in St Petersburg, the artist has traced the figures of two women hovering at the edge of the familiar scene. They are barely visible. One is at an upper window and she appears to be a spectator. The other woman moves closer, hovering in the background, leaning against a pillar or archway. We can imagine she may be the mother of the Prodigal, standing in awe at the return of her lost child. She speaks to us of the intimacy of ordinary life; the daily tasks faithfully continued, despite the grief; then interrupted by a momentous arrival. She, too, has waited many years for her son’s return, but she does not break into the heart-stirring moment of the Father’s embrace. Like the Spirit of God, she waits for the appropriate moment to enter the scene as she hovers in the shadows. She may be the Spirit of motherly love between the fathering God and the Beloved child, who is each one of us.
We struggle to find images of God, but one image that Jesus himself uses is that of a woman, who, having lost a coin, sweeps the house until she finds it. He compares her to the Kingdom, or reign of God, who seeks the precious lost child.( Luke15:8-10) Elsewhere he compares the Kingdom to a baker woman who takes some yeast, mixes it with the flour, and leavens her dough until all of it is raised, ready for the oven.(Matt.13:33) What homely passages these are! The 14th century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, understood a mother’s task, ‘A mother’s service is nearest, readiest and surest. This office no one person has the ability or knows how to, or ever will do fully, but God alone’
So Jesus presents us with these images of a loving, parenting God who can be described as father and mother to us. Rembrandt paints the welcoming hands of the father as those of both male and female, artisan and artist, nurturer and strong refuge. Jesus, familiar the words of the psalmist, would have prayed, ‘Like a weaned child on its mother’s breast, even so is my soul.’ (Ps.131:2) When he prayed those words, perhaps he brought to mind the times that he spent in Mary’s arms when he was a small child. The Prodigal is gathered into the ‘mothering’ arms of God and Rembrandt chooses to place women at the scene and draw them forth from the shadows with his brush strokes. We may wish to stand with them, gently looking on, listening to the murmured words and seeing the tender gestures, safe in the shadow of our loving and good God.