May 6-12 - "Rejoice with Me; for I Have Found My Sheep Which Was Lost"
Justin Wheatley (American, born 1980)
Prodigal Son (2012)
acrylic on cradled panel, 12 x 24 inches
Church History Museum Collection
Used with permission of the artist
“And he said, A certain man had two sons:…” (Luke 15:11). So begins the parable of the Prodigal Son, a story that has captivated the imaginations of artists from the Medieval period to the present day. Dürer, Rembrandt, Rubens and many other European painters depicted the emotional moments of the son losing his inheritance, hitting rock bottom in a sty of pigs, dreading his return home, and finding instead the loving embrace of his father. The story also has inspired musical compositions by Claude Debussy, Sergei Prokofiev, and Benjamin Britten; a ballet by George Balanchine; works of fiction and poetry by André Gide, Rudyard Kipling, Rainer Maria Rilke; and popular music by the Rolling Stones, Ted Nugent, Iron Maiden, U2, Kid Rock, and House of Pain, among many others. All these artists have found in the Prodigal Son a universal story. Why does it speak to us so powerfully, still?
Whether or not we have first-hand experience as spendthrifts, we all know the isolation and guilt that accompanies sin. As the gravity of our errors dawns on us, we struggle to explain to others what we are feeling. There don’t seem to be the right words. These complex emotions of regret that include embarrassment, loneliness, and humiliation—as well as the peace and hope found in forgiveness—find in art a separate vocabulary that is otherwise almost impossible to articulate. Justin Wheatley writes about his painting, Prodigal Son, “When I painted this, I had a certain person in mind, someone who is close to me. At some point during the painting process I had the humbling realization that the painting is just as much about me as it is the person I was thinking of. Christ offers us all a pathway home, we just have to follow it.”
1. In the parable, the Prodigal Son changed the direction of his life when "he came to himself" (Luke 15:17). How have you experienced "coming to yourself" as a part of the repentance process?
2. In Wheatley’s painting, the returning prodigal is in darkness; the sky changes from dark to light to clear his journey home. What insight does this give to your understanding of the process of repentance?
3. The parable begins by telling the story of a man with two sons. When the father celebrates the return of his Prodigal Son, the older brother becomes "angry, and would not go in" (Luke 15:28). In assessing his younger brother's moment of recognition and renewal, the older brother perceives this to be a corresponding diminishing of his own. As Elder Jeffrey Holland observed of the older brother, "He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother. As his father pled with him to see, it is one who was dead and now is alive. It is one who was lost and now is found" (Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Other Prodigal," Ensign, May 2002). How does the bitterness of comparison and our own perceptions of fairness blind us to recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of others?
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