Sunday, February 28, 2016

Luke 15.11-32: Young Man, Young Man

The parable at the heart of Lent 4Cs gospel lesson is one of the most familiar in scripture. Luke 15:11-32 is the most familiar of the "lost" parables, though the parable's interpretive trend has offered alternatives to its traditional popular title. Traditionally, though, this collection of parables is simplified into lost coin, lost sheep, lost son. It is the last that is the subject of this week's gospel reading. And for Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas (and poet James Weldon Johnson), this son was lost. Absolutely lost.
Aaron Douglas. The Prodigal Son. Illustration for James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse
c. 1927. Richmond, VA: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Following the text of Johnson's poem "The Prodigal Son", Douglas has focused on the portion of the story where the son is squandering his inheritance. Women, music, money, cards...
This is Babylon, Babylon, That great city of Babylon. 
Come on, my friend, and go along with me. 
And the young man joined the crowd. 
Young man, young man...

Douglas' original illustrations to accompany Johnson's texts were created in gouache. The work shown here, in oil, is a second version of the basic composition. More than one of the illustrations for God's Trombones was re-created by the artist.

Today we are as likely to refer to this parable as the story of the faithful father or loving father, remembering that the text begins, "There was a man who had two sons..." In 1927 Johnson and Douglas looked at the story through a different lens. Holding a variety of interpretations together helps us understand the fullness of the parable. The Douglas/Johnson interpretation reminds us of all the times that we squander what we have. But it also reminds us that there is no time that we cannot come to ourselves, fall down on our knees and say "I will arise and go to God."

For the full text of Johnson's poem, see:
For an image of the poem and illustration in context, see:
For thoughts on Joshua 5:9-12, click here.

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