The Prodigal Son. LEADER S NOTES. Overview of the Formation, Prayer and Reflection Experience

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1 LEADER S NOTES The Prodigal Son. Overview of the Formation, Prayer and Reflection Experience The following Staff or Board Formation centres on the powerful story in Luke s Gospel; the return of the Prodigal son. Much of the material in this formation offering is based on the work of Fr. Heni Nouwen ( ) and his book, The return of the prodigal son. This formation experience aims to gently break open one of our seminal Scripture stories linking it in to our day to day spirituality. This formation offering is one of several based on great stories from Scripture. Aims of this Formation, Prayer and Reflection Experience Through this formation, prayer and reflection experience Staff or Board members will: grow in their ability to use Scripture as a tool in personal theological reflection; have an increased ability to use Scripture in personal prayer; gain insights into their own personal relationship with God. Preparing a Space for Formation, Prayer & Reflection see guidelines for overview. For this Formation Experience it may be of value to have as part of the centre piece a copy of the Scriptures and a candle. If there is a copy of Rembrandt s painting, The return of the Prodigal Son somewhere in the school it would be wonderful to have that in the Venue for the formation as well and / or give participants a copy of the artwork itself. Outline of Formation, Prayer and Reflection Experience This formation session may take the form of a short input and discussion at the beginning of the Staff or Board Meeting or a period of quiet reflection after the facilitator has introduced the key input. Possible Process: The facilitator will need to note that while this Scripture refers to male characters its core message applies to both men and women. 1. The facilitator of the process gives out copies of the Scripture and possibly a copy of the Rembrandt painting.

2 2. Invite someone to read the Scripture out aloud. 3. The facilitator then hands out copies of the Handout with the reflection questions. 4. The facilitator may share some reflections from the Facilitator s notes. It is suggested that the facilitator NOT read out the whole of the notes. 5. After this the facilitator invites the Staff or Board members to have five or so minutes of silence to perhaps reflect on the following questions; 6. Who am I in this story and why? What has struck you in this story that you have never noticed before? What about the painting has touched you / impacted on you and why? 7. The facilitator may invite Staff or Board members to share one thing that they have reflected upon. 8. The facilitator concludes their input by repeating that We are all in some way, the younger son / daughter AND the older son / daughter and we are ALL called to have / become the heart of the Father! 9. Conclude the formation time by inviting each of the group to repeat one word or phrase either from the Scripture or from the handout.

3 LEADER S NOTES The Prodigal Son II. Scripture Notes for Facilitator Perhaps this wonderful story is an archetypal story that relates to the spiritual / inner journey that we all undertake. The Prodigal Son is NOT simply as story of three men but rather a story of three journeys and three heart stances. Jesus is the ultimate story teller. Context: Jewish society at the time of Jesus was quite patriarchal. The father was very much the head of the family and the eldest son would usually take his place upon the father s death. Inheritance was not just a matter of money but identified your belonging within the family. For the younger son to ask for his inheritance before the death of his father was almost asking to leave the family ; to disassociate from the family. Normally the younger son would have stayed with the family, caring for the father in his old age and working dutifully for the older son. The Younger Son: For the Jewish people as the chosen people of God the ultimate shame would have been to be totally dependent upon a gentile; a foreigner. So Jesus, in telling this story is painting a picture of ultimate shame and disgrace. In this story the younger son could not have gone lower. He; claims his inheritance early leaves the family goes to a foreign land goes to work for a non-jew spending the hard earned inheritance on reckless living on sinful acts distancing himself from Yahweh is sent to work with the pigs an unclean animal according to Jewish law becomes so desperate he eats the food that the pigs are given! To Jesus listeners this young man has reached the ultimate point of no return. The story of the younger son now reaches a critical point. It is in this point of despair that he chooses to return home. Some of us, in the midst of pain and hurt and shame run further away! He has the humility to know how broken he is but also the courage to return. It takes great courage to say I m sorry, it takes great courage to return home when you have caused shame! He chooses to return home, to kneel at the feet of his father and asks to be treated as a servant. The story of the younger son IS a story of brokenness and sin of not seeing your innate dignity and worth but it is equally a story of a courageous choice to seek forgiveness and to be reconciled! The Father: Jesus is clearly painting for his listeners a wonderful image of God; the total and unconditionally loving Father. It is no accident that while he was still a long way off his Father saw him! The Father has never stopped looking out for him, searching for him,

4 longing for him. The father has waited lovingly for his younger son in his own time to come to a point of wanting to, needing to come home! The younger son has never left the father s heart he has never rejected his son even though almost every legalistic precept of this time has said that he SHOULD do so! Then, to the astonishment of Jesus listeners the father in the story does what no Jewish father should have done; he runs to his son, he hugs him, he cloths him, places the ring of sonship on his finger and the sandals of belonging to this household on to his feet! It is total and ultimate acceptance and belonging. There are no conditions on his return ; no ifs, no buts, no should or could.just the choice of total forgiveness, acceptance and love! The Older Brother: As many of the elements of the younger brother are part of our story as well it is often the case that the reader will be identifying with the younger brother. Jesus story now turns to the hard working, dutiful, apparently loyal older son out in the field. The older brother is angry and resentful (and many of us will possibly respond and rightly so ). Luke s Gospel puts before us yet another beautiful twist to this compelling story. The father comes out to him! The father comes to the sacred ground of the older son. The father invites him in; he has longed for the older brother out in the field just as much as for the younger son in the far away land. It is NOT a matter of preferred son or better than or less than ; both are valued, both are loved and longed for, both are totally and unconditionally loved. But the older son s heart has gone, by choice, on a different journey. True, he has been obedient to the law, true he has worked hard, true he has been loyal to his father. But his heart has hardened; he has little empathy or compassion for the shame filled journey of his younger brother. What has been his motivation for working so hard? He has been keeping count; his time would come! He is unable to rejoice in the courageous choice of his younger brother to come home to forgiveness and reconciliation! His eyes are so different to those of his father. His father sees the repentance and the courage to come home of the younger son while the older brother sees only a competitor for his father s love and his hard worked for inheritance! The hardened heart of the older son has turned to vengeance and resentment! The Father: But the father s heart is no different in its love for the older brother than it is for the younger; two different journeys of choice, two different sets of choices two hearts

5 equally but differently broken in love. The father responds, All I have is yours! The father has allowed his to choose to go out into the fields resentfully just as he has allowed his younger son to journey to a foreign land lustfully. One of the hardest loves any parent has to gift their children with is that of the freedom to make their own mistakes! The Gospel Call: In this most wonderful of stories we all have something of the younger son / daughter in us! We all have something of the older son / daughter in us. Jesus story asks us to name this and not be afraid of this and then invites us to journey for the rest of our lives to have the heart of the father / the mother; the God of total and unconditional love! We are called to come as guest to the journey and choices of both the younger and older sons. We are called to choose to be deeply present to both of these people; a presence that says, You are lovable, unique and wonderful just as you are! From this choice to come as guest and be present our hearts like that of the father will open in true and deep compassion. Then, and only then, will we experience the deep and intimate freedom of the father to allows, accepts, forgives and yes celebrates! This magnificent story is the ultimate parallel story. We have the parallel of how the father allows the younger son to run far away physically just as he allows the older son to do so emotionally and spirituality. The father waits for them both to come back to the place of the heart. Both older and younger son make claims on the inheritance; the younger son filled with his selfish obsession with the now and the older son with a hardened heart. The father forgives both, allows both, wishes to celebrate with both and in the pain only a parent can truly know waits for both to return to his and their own hearts. Yes, this most beautiful story is truly OUR story; our story wrapped totally and unconditionally in the loving arms of our God!

6 Luke 15: The Parable of the Prodigal Son There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate. Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 'Your brother has come,' he replied, 'and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.' The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!' 'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.'

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