The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) & the sign of Jonah

We have seen how the Injil records the teachings, healings and miracles of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH).  He often gave invitations to his listeners (and to us) to receive what he offered.  He offered ‘living water’, mercy to sinners, finding the ‘lost’, and invited all who were willing to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’.

These teachings perplexed the religious leaders of his day.  In particular they wondered what authority he had to speak.  For example, did he really have the authority to offer God’s mercy to guilty people, and the authority to pay for entry into the Kingdom of God for all?  So the religious leaders (who are like imams today) asked him for a sign to prove his authority.  The Injil records their conversation:

Isa refers to the Sign of Jonah (Yunus)

38 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.”

39 He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.  (Matthew 12:38-41)

Prophet Yunus in History

Isa al Masih (PBUH) answered by pointing to the prophet Jonah (also called Yunus or Yunis).  You can see in the timeline below that the prophet Yunus lived about 800 years before the Prophet Isa al Masih.

Prophet Jonah (Yunus or Yunis) in Historical Timeline

Prophet Yunus in Quran

Yunus PBUH wrote a book that is in the Prophetic writings. The Quran summarizes his book like this:

And indeed, Jonah was among the messengers.

when he ran away to the laden ship.

And he drew lots and was among the losers.

Then the fish swallowed him, while he was blameworthy.

And had he not been of those who exalt Allah ,

He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected.

But We threw him onto the open shore while he was ill.

And We caused to grow over him a gourd vine.

And We sent him to [his people of] a hundred thousand or more.

And they believed, so We gave them enjoyment [of life] for a time.

(As-Saffat 37: 139-148)

Prophet Yunus was swallowed by a huge fish because he ran away from the mission that Allah had given him – to preach repentance to the city of Ninevah (close to modern-day Mosul in Iraq).  Islamic scholar Yusuf Ali says about ayah 144 (‘He would have remained inside its belly until the Day they are resurrected’)

This is just the idiom.  This was to be the burial and grave of Jonah.  If he had not repented he could not have got out of the body of the creature that had swallowed him, until the Day or Resurrection, when all dead would be raised up. (Footnote 4125 of Yusuf Ali translation of Quran)

In other words, being inside the fish was a death sentence that would normally only be released on the Day of Resurrection.

The Prophet Yunus from his own Book

Jonah’s book in the Old Testament gives greater details about his time in the great fish.  He tells us:

17 Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.  From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
You hurled me into the depths,
into the very heart of the seas,
and the currents swirled about me;
all your waves and breakers swept over me.
I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight;
yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’
The engulfing waters threatened me
the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.
To the roots of the mountains I sank down;
the earth beneath barred me in forever.
But you, Lord my God,
brought my life up from the pit.

“When my life was ebbing away,
I remembered you, Lord,
and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols
turn away from God’s love for them.
But I, with shouts of grateful praise,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

10 And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land  (Jonah 1:17 – 2:10)

What is the ‘Sign of Jonah’?

Normally we expect that when someone’s authority is challenged, as in the authority of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH), he would respond by showing power, victory or success.  But Isa al Masih defends his authority by referring to when the Prophet Jonah had been 3 days ‘in the realm of the dead’ – the ‘pit’ or grave.  During this time, since Jonah had disobeyed the command of Allah, he had ‘been banished from your sight’ i.e., from the sight of Allah.  The episode of Jonah in the grip of death for 3 days in the black depths, banished from Allah, is a surprising credential of authority from God.  Why would Isa al Masih choose a sign that appears to remove authority?

But this is not the first time we come across weakness and death as a Sign of Allah.  We saw that the prophet Isaiah had prophesied the Coming Servant.  Isaiah prophesied that this Servant would be ‘despised’ and ‘rejected by men’ and would be ‘considered punished by God’ and would be ‘cut off from the land of the living’ and be ‘assigned a grave with the wicked’.  That sounds a lot like what Jonah went through.  Stranger still, it was ‘the Lord’s will to crush him (the servant)”.  Though we may not understand why Isa al Masih (PBUH) chose this Sign of Jonah (Yunus) to defend his authority, this is not an isolated occurence.

The clue that brings understanding is how Jonah ended his prayer in the belly of the fish.  The last phrase of his prayer was “Salvation comes from the LORD”.  We saw how the name ‘Jesus’ is the same as ‘Joshua’ and that this was the prophecy of the coming Branch. But what does ‘Joshua’ mean?  In Hebrew it means ‘The LORD saves’.  In his prayer the prophet Jonah acknowledged that he (and we) need to be ‘saved’ and that it is the LORD who does the saving.  His double-sided truth declared both our need (to be saved) and God as the one who does the saving. The name of Isa al Masih (Yhowshuwa in Hebrew) literally has this same truth that Jonah in the fish finally acknowledged since the name Jesus/Joshua means ‘The LORD saves’.

The Prophet Isa al Masih concluded his conversation with the religious leaders by reminding them that the people of Ninevah (the city where Yunus had been sent to preach) had believed and repented at Jonah’s message – but the leaders who listened to Isa al Masih were not willing to repent.  These leaders were unwilling to acknowledge that they needed saving.  We should examine our own hearts to see if we are like the men of Ninevah (who repented) or the leaders (who did not).  Which of the two are you?

We continue to follow Isa al Masih to see more completely what this Sign of Jonah means and how ‘The LORD saves’ as Isa al Masih’s mission moves to its end.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) does a 'Hajj'

We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca.  What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year.  One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot).  This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today.  For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times.  In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews.  Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’.  I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.

Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him.  But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil).

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Division Over Who Jesus Is

25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not.  The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown.  Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih.  So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known?  From Taurat?  Writings of Prophets?  Not at all!  The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from.  The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem.  We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.

It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown.  They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day.  We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.

The account continues…

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple.  It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’.  In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born).  But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee?  Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)

So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles.  Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.

Two lessons come to me from this account.  First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge.  As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.

Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer.  He said at their Hajj that

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’.  Are you thirsty?  (See here for what the prophets meant by this).  It is good to drink from the zamzam well.  Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?

Isa al Masih (PBUH) comes to find … the Lost

Often, religious people will keep themselves apart from those who are not religious so that they will not share in their uncleanness. This was also true of the teachers of Sharia law in the time of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). They kept themselves apart from the unclean so that they would remain pure. But Isa al Masih (PBUH) had taught that our purity and cleanliness is foremost a matter of our hearts. Thus he would associate with those who were not ritually clean. Here is how the injil records both his association with sinners and the reaction of the teachers of sharia law.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

So why would Isa al Masih (PBUH) welcome and eat with sinners? Did he enjoy sin? The prophet answered his critics by telling three parables, or stories.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. (Luke 15:3-7)

In this story the prophet (PBUH) likens us to sheep while he is the shepherd of the sheep. He explains that like any shepherd going off to search for a lost sheep, he himself is out searching to find lost people. Perhaps you have been caught in some sin – even a secret one that no one in your family knows. Or perhaps your life, with all its problems, is so confusing that it is leaving you feeling lost. This story is meant to give hope because you can know that the prophet (PBUH) is seeking to find and help you. He wants to rescue you before harm destroys you.

Then he told a second story.

The Parable of the Lost Coin

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15: 8-10)

In this story we are the valuable but lost coin and he is the one searching for the coin. The irony is that though the coin is lost somewhere in the house, it itself does not ‘know’ that it is lost. It does not feel the loss.  It is the woman who feels the sense of loss and therefore she sweeps the house very carefully looking under and behind everything, not satisfied until she finds that valuable coin. Perhaps you do not ‘feel’ lost. But the truth is that we all need to repent, and if you have not, then you are lost, whether you feel it or not. In the prophet’s eyes you are the valuable but lost coin and he knows the loss so is looking and working to make repentance clear to you.

His third story was the most powerful.

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13 “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. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 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.

21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22 “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. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 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. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 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.’”

In this story we are either the older, religious son, or the younger son who goes far off. Though the older son observed all the religious rules he never understood the loving heart of his father. The younger son thought he was gaining freedom by leaving home but found himself enslaved by starvation and humiliation.   Then he ‘came to his senses’ and realized he could go back to his home. Going back would reveal that he was wrong to leave in the first place, and to admit that would require humility. This is an illustration given to us to help us understand what ‘repent’, which the prophet Yahya (PBUH) taught so boldly, really means.

And when he swallowed his pride and returned he found the love to be so much more than he could have hoped. The sandals, the robe, the ring, the feast, the blessing, the acceptance – all speak of love. This story is to help us understand that Allah loves us that much and he wants us to return to him. It will require that we ‘repent’ but when we do we will find Him ready to receive us. This is what the Prophet Isa al Masih (pbuh) wants us to learn in this story. Can you submit to and accept this kind of love?

How should I fast?

When Ramadan comes and it is time to fast I have discussions with friends on how to best fast. For example, if Ramadan occurs in the May-to-July period, and we live in Northern countries with almost 18 or more hours between sunrise and sunset the question of whether it is permissible to use some other daylight standard (such as based on the sunrise to sunset interval in Mecca) is asked. My friends follow different rulings by different scholars on this and similar kinds of questions on what is permissible and what is not as we live in complicated situations.

Important as these discussions are, we almost always forget the equally important question of how we should live so our fasting pleases Allah. The prophets had much to say about this and their message about living for proper fasting is as important for us today as it was when they lived.

The Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) lived in a time (see historical timeline) when the believers practiced their religious obligations (like prayers and fasting) strictly, so they were religious,

Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur
Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur

but it was also a time of great corruption.   (See article introducing Zabur for overview of this period). The people were full of fighting, corruption and disputes. That sounds like us today does it not? So this message is important for us too.

True Fasting

58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58: 1-12)

Do not these promises for true living with fasting sound wonderful?  But the people in that time did not listen to them and other messages warning them of judgment if they did not repent (see here on what the prophet Yahya PBUH taught about repenting). So they were judged as Prophet Musa (PBUH) had prophesied in Taurat (here).  This message remains as a sign and warning to us since how the prophet described the way they were living while fasting sounds like us today.

We each have to decide if we will obey this message and repent from how we are living and treating each other. But it will be of no use to fast, with whatever fasting rules our imams permit, and still fail to please Allah by living in a way that displeases him.

The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) extends Mercy

Have you ever broken a command in sharia law? This is something that none of us want to do, but the reality is that many of us are hiding our failures, hoping that others will not discover our sin and expose our shame. But what if it is discovered, what do you hope for then?

This happened to a young woman during the teaching of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). The injil records it like this.

The woman caught in adultery

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8: 2-11)

We see that this woman had been caught in the very act of adultery and the teachers of the Sharia law of the Prophet Musa (PBUH) wanted her to be stoned, but they took her first to the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) to see what he would say about the matter. Would he uphold the truth of the law they wondered. (Incidentally, according to the law both the man and the woman were subject to stoning, but only the woman was brought forward for punishment.)

The Justice of Allah & sin of mankind

Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not overturn the law – it was the standard given by Allah and reflected perfect justice. But he said that only those who were without any sin could throw the first stone. As the teachers pondered this, the reality of the following statement from the Zabur settled into their minds

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

What the Zabur means is that it is not only the unbelievers, the kafirs and the polytheists who sin – even those who believe in Allah and His messengers they also sin. In fact, according to these ayat, when Allah looks on mankind He does not find even ‘one’ who does good.

The Sharia law of Musa (PBUH) was God’s arrangement with mankind based on absolute justice, and those who followed it could obtain righteousness. But as we saw the standard was absolute, without even one deviation allowed.

The Mercy of Allah

But since ‘all have become corrupt’, a new arrangement was needed. This arrangement would not be justice based on merit – because people could not uphold their lawful obligations – so it had to be based on another character of Allah – mercy.  He would extend mercy in place of obligation. This was anticipated in the Law of the prophet Musa (PBUH) when the Passover lamb granted mercy and life to those who painted blood on their doorposts, and with the Cow (which is what Surah 2 – Baqarah – is named after) of Harun (PBUH). It was even anticipated before that in the mercy of clothes to Adam, the sacrifice of Habil (PBUH), and the mercy given to the prophet Noah (PBUH). It was also anticipated in the Zabur when Allah promised that

I will remove the sin of this land in a single day (Zechariah 3: 9)

And now the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) extended it to someone who had no other hope but to receive mercy. It is interesting that no mention or requirement was made of this woman’s religion. What we do know in the injil is that the Prohet Isa al Masih taught in his Sermon on the Mount that

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

And

‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

Extend Mercy to receive Mercy

The chance is very high that you and I will both be needing Mercy extended to us at the Day of Judgment. The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) was willing to extend that to someone who clearly had violated the commands – who did not deserve it. What he did require though is that we also extend mercy to those around us. According to him, the level of mercy that we extend will be the measure used to determine the mercy that we will get. This may be a wise teaching to follow in our day when we are so quick to severely judge the faults and sins of those around us. It is because we are so quick to judge the sins of others that there is so much conflict around us. Let us ask God to help us become people who, like the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH), will extend mercy to those who do not deserve it, so that we, undeserving that we are, can also receive it when we will need it.

The Prophet Yahya (PBUH) suffers – and shows – true Martyrdom

The word ‘martyr’ is used a lot these days. I hear it when someone is killed in one of the many wars going on, or in some conflict between sects when fighters are killing each other and someone dies. He usually is referred to as a ‘martyr’ by his side (and perhaps a kafir by the other side).

But is this correct? The injil records how the prophet Yahya (PBUH) was martyred during the ministry of Isa al Masih (PBUH) and he provides a great example of how to understand this. Here is how the injil records these events:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, “This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead! That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.”

Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, for John had been saying to him: “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of the people, because they considered John a prophet.

On Herod’s birthday the daughter of Herodias danced for the guests and pleased Herod so much that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she asked. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he ordered that her request be granted 10 and had John beheaded in the prison. 11 His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who carried it to her mother. 12 John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. (Matthew 14: 1-12)

We see first why the prophet Yahya (PBUH) had been arrested. The local king (Herod) had taken his brother’s wife from him and made her his own wife – which was contrary to the sharia law of Musa (PBUH). Being a prophet Yahya (PBUH) had publicly said that this was wrong but the corrupt king, instead of listening to the prophet, had arrested him.  The wife, who benefited from this new marriage because she was now the wife of a powerful king, wanted the prophet silenced so she conspired to have her grown daughter perform a sensual dance before her husband the king and his guests at a party. He was so moved by the daughter’s performance that he promised to give her whatever she asked. Her mother told her to ask for the head of the prophet Yahya (PBUH). So the prophet Yahya (PBUH), jailed because he spoke the truth, was beheaded simply because the sensual dance of a girl trapped the king in front of his guests.

We also see that the prophet Yahya (PBUH) was not fighting anyone, nor was he trying to kill the king. He was simply speaking the truth. He was not afraid to warn a corrupt king even though he had no earthly power to stand against the might of this king. He spoke the truth because of his love for sharia law revealed to the prophet Musa (PBUH). This is a good example for us today showing how we fight (by speaking truth) and what we fight for (truth of the prophets). The prophet Yahya (PBUH) did not try to kill the king, lead a revolution or start a war. This was how he was martyred.

And his approach was most effective. The king was so conscience-stricken by his murder that he thought that the powerful teachings and miracles of the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) was Yahya (PBUH) come back to life.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) said this about the prophet Yahya (PBUH)

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. 15 Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Matthew 11: 7-15)

Here Isa (PBUH) confirms that Yahya (PBUH) was the ‘preparer’ prophesied to come and that he was great among the prophets. His entrance to the Kingdom of heaven endures to this day while King Herod – so powerful back then – has nothing because he refused to submit to the prophets.

There were violent people in the prophet Yahya’s (PBUH) day who beheaded others and likewise there are violent people who do the same today. These violent people are even ‘raiding’ the Kingdom of Heaven. But they will not enter it. Entering the Kingdom of Heaven means taking the path that Yahya (PBUH) took – of making peace and speaking truth. We are wise if we follow his example and not the examples of so many who follow violence today.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) offers ‘Living Water’

Previously we learned how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught how we should treat those we consider to be our enemies. In our present-day world where we have conflict between Sunni and Shiite, supporters and opponents of Assad in Syria, Palestinians and Israelis … in Iraq … in Ukraine – no matter what country you may find yourself in there is most likely conflict between different groups where people hate and kill each other. This has turned our world into hellish misery. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in this Parable that our entry into Paradise was dependant on how we treated our enemies!   We should carefully consider this if we want entry into Paradise.

But it is easy to teach one thing, yet act quite differently. Even many imams and other religious teachers have taught one thing but lived quite another. What about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH)? On one occasion he had an encounter with a Samaritan. (Remember that in his day there was enmity between Jews and Samaritans that is similar to that between Palestinians and Israelis today). Here is how the Injil records the encounter.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:1-42)

Notice how the Samaritan woman was surprised that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would even initiate a conversation with her – there was considerable enmity between Jews and Samaritans in that day. Isa started by asking to drink some of the water she was drawing from the well. He did this for two reasons. First, as it says, he was thirsty and wanted a drink. But he (being a prophet) also knew that she was thirsty in an entirely different way. She was thirsty for joy and satisfaction in her life. She thought she could satisfy this thirst by having unlawful relations with men. So she had had several husbands and even as she was speaking to the prophet she was living with a man who was not her husband. Everyone viewed her as immoral. This is probably why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other women in the village did not want her to be with them when they went to the well in the cool of the morning. This woman had had many men, and her shame alienated her from the women in the village.

We saw in the Zabur how the prophets wrote how sin is from a deep thirst in our lives – a thirst that must be quenched. Many today, whatever their religion, live in sinful ways because of this thirst.

But the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not avoid this sinful woman.  Instead he told her that he could give her ‘living water’ that would quench her thirst. But he was not speaking of physical water (which as he said if you drank once you would be thirsty again later) but a change in her heart, a change from the inside. The prophets of the Zabur had prophesied that this Covenant of a new heart was coming. Isa al Masih (PBUH) offered her this new covenant of a changed heart ‘welling up to eternal life’.

To Believe – Confessing in truth

But this offer of ‘living water’ threw the woman into a crisis. When Isa told her to get her husband he was purposefully causing her to recognize and admit her sin – to confess it. This is something we avoid at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sin.   Adam & Eve had done this in the Garden and still today we prefer to hide or excuse our sin. But if we want to experience the Mercy of God leading to ‘eternal life’ then we must be honest and admit our sin, because the Injil promises that:

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

For this reason, when the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) told the Samaritan woman that

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth...

By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful and authentic about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful news is that Allah ‘seeks’ and will not turn away worshipers who come with honesty like this.

But it was too difficult for her to admit her sin. A common way to hide our shame is to change the subject from our sin to that of a religious dispute. Today the world is full of religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. The Jews stated that worship should be done in Jerusalem and Samaritans held that it should be on a mountain further north called Mount Gerizim. By switching to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert the conversation from her sin. She could now hide her sin behind this religious dispute.

How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we are religious. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct – all the while ignoring our need to confess our sin.

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not enter into this dispute with her. He insisted that it was not so much the place of worship, but her honesty about herself in worship that mattered. She could come before Allah anywhere (since He is Spirit), but she needed to come in truth about herself before she could receive this ‘living water’.

She now had an important decision to make. She could continue trying to hide behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave. But she finally chose to admit her sin – to confess – so much so that she went back to the village to tell others how this prophet knew her and what she had done. She did not hide anymore. In doing this she became a ‘believer’. She had been religious before, as many of us are, but now she – and many in her village – became ‘believers’.

To become a believer is not simply about mentally asserting correct teaching – important though that is. It is also about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore there is no longer a need to cover up sin. This is what the Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had done so long ago to obtain righteousness – he trusted a promise.

Do you excuse or hide your sin? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess your sin? Why not come before Allah our Creator and truthfully confess sin causing guilt and shame? Then you can rejoice that He ‘seeks’ your worship and will ‘purify’ you from all unrighteousness. For sure we need to continue in the Injil to understand how He will do this and how we should live. We see from the conversation that this woman’s understanding of the prophet Isa (PBUH) as the ‘Messiah’ (= ‘Christ’ = ‘Masih’) was important and that after the prophet Isa (PBUH) had stayed and taught them for two days they understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world’.  Perhaps we do not fully understand what this all means.  But as the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) had prepared the people to understand, to confess our sin will prepare us to receive Mercy from Him. This is indeed a step on the Straight Way.

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

Isa al Masih (PBUH) teaches on … entering paradise

Do you hope to enter heaven (paradise) one day? What is required for you and me to enter heaven? Isa al Masih (PBUH) was once asked this question by a Jewish ‘expert’ educated in the interpretation of all aspects of the sharia law of the prophet Musa (PBUH). Isa al Masih (PBUH) gave him an unexpected answer. Below is the conversation recorded in the Injil.  To appreciate the effect of Isa’s parable on this expert you must understand that ‘Samaritans’ were despised by the Jews in that day. They were considered unclean. In return the Samaritans hated the Jews. The hatred between Samaritans and Jews back then would be similar today to maybe that between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians, or between Sunnis and Shiites, or supporters and opponents of Assad in Syria.

Parable of Eternal Life and the Good Neighbour

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  (Luke 10:25-37)

When the expert in the Law answered ‘Love the Lord your God’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ he was quoting from the Sharia Law of Musa (PBUH). Isa indicated that he had answered correctly but this raised the question of who was his neighbour. So Isa al Masih (PBUH) told the parable of the Good Neighbour.

In the parable we expect that the religious people (the priest and the Levite) would help the man who had been beaten, but they ignore him and leave him in his helpless state. Their religion has not made them Good Neighbours. Instead, the person we least expect, the one we assume is his enemy – he is the one who helps the man who had been beaten.

With this parable, Isa al Masih (PBUH) commands to “go and do likewise”. I do not know about you, but my first reaction to this parable was that I must have misunderstood it, and then I was tempted to just ignore it and pretend I never read it.

But think of all the fighting, killing, heartache and misery which is happening all around because the great majority of people do ignore this command. If we lived like this Samaritan then our cities and countries would be peaceful rather than full of fighting. And we would also have an assurance of entering paradise. As it stands, very few people have an assurance that they have eternal life – even if they live very religiously like the expert in the Law did who was talking with Isa (PBUH).

Do you have assurance of eternal life?

But is becoming this kind of Neighbour even possible? How can we do this? If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that being a Neighbour like he commanded is too difficult to do.

And here we may see a glimmer of hope because when see that we cannot do it we become ‘poor in spirit’ – which Isa al Masih (PBUH) had also taught was necessary to enter the ‘Kingdom of God’

Perhaps instead of just ignoring this parable, or excusing it away, we should use it to examine ourselves and acknowledge that we cannot do it – it is too difficult. Then, in our helplessness, we can ask Allah for help. As Isa al Masih (PBUH) had promised in the Sermon on the Mount

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  (Matthew 7:7-11)

So we have the Masih’s permission to ask for help – and help is promised.  Perhaps pray to Allah something like this:

Father in Heaven. You have sent the prophets to teach us the straight way. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught that I need to love and help even those who consider themselves my enemy, and without doing this I cannot get eternal life. But I find that this is impossible for me to do. Please help me and change me so that I can follow this path and get eternal life. Be Merciful to me who is a Sinner.

By Masih’s encouragement and permission I pray to you God

(The specific words are not important – it is that we confess our need and ask for mercy)

The injil also records a time when Isa al Masih (PBUH) encountered a Samaritan. How would the prophet treat a person who was considered a hated enemy of his people (the jews)?  What happened in his encounter with the Samaritan, and what we may learn to help us become the kind of Neighbour we need to be, we will look at next.

Isa al Masih (PBUH) teaches – with Parables

We have seen how Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught with unique authority. He also taught using stories that illustrated true principles. For example, we saw how he taught about the Kingdom of God using the story of a Great Banquet, and how he taught about forgiveness through the story of the Unmerciful Servant. These stories are called parables, and Isa al Masih (PBUH) is unique among prophets and teachers in how much he used parables to teach, and how striking his parables are. His disciples asked him on one occasion why he taught by using parables. The Injil records his explanation:

10 The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

11 He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)

His last sentence was a recitation of the prophet Isaiah (PBUH) who lived 700 BC and had warned against a hardening of our hearts. In other words, sometimes we do not understand something because we missed the explanation or it was too complex to comprehend. In such a situation a clear explanation dispels the confusion. But there are other times when we do not understand because deep down inside our hearts we do not want to. We may not admit this, so we keep asking questions as if a lack of mental comprehension is our block. But if the confusion is in our hearts and not in our minds then no explanation will be sufficient. The problem then is that we are unwilling to submit, not that we cannot mentally understand.

When the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in parables, the effect on the crowd that he was teaching was dramatic. Those that simply did not understand with their minds would become curious from the story and inquire further, gaining understanding, while those who were unwilling to submit would treat the story with contempt and disinterest and they would get no further understanding. Using parables was a way for the master teacher to separate people as the farmer separates wheat from chaff by winnowing. Those who were willing to submit were separated from those who were not willing. Those people unwilling to submit would find the parable confusing since their hearts were unwilling to submit to its truth. Though seeing, they would not see the point.

Parable of the Sower and the Four Soils

When the disciples were asking the prophet Isa (PBUH) the question about his teaching in parables, he had been teaching a group of parables on the Kingdom of God and its effect on people. Here is the first:

Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what did this parable mean? We do not have to guess, since those who had hearts willing to submit were intrigued by the parable and asked for its meaning, which he gave:

18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

We can see that there are four responses to the message about the Kingdom of God. The first has no ‘understanding’ and so the devil (Iblis) takes the message away from their hearts. The remaining three responses are all initially very positive and they receive the message with joy. But this message must grow in our hearts through difficult times. It is not just to be acknowledged in our minds to then continue living our lives as we want. So two of these responses, though they initially received the message, did not allow it to grow in their heart. Only the fourth heart, who ‘hears the word and understands it’ would truly submit in the way that Allah was looking for.

One point of this parable is to make us ask the question; ‘which of these persons am I?’  Only those who truly ‘understand’ will become a good crop. One way to strengthen understanding is to clearly see what the previous prophets, beginning with Adam, revealed about the will and plan of God through the Taurat and Zabur. This is why we began with these first prophets. After Adam, important Signs in the Taurat come from the promise to Ibrahim (PBUH) and his sacrifice, Musa (PBUH), the Ten Commandments, Harun (PBUH). In the Zabur, understanding the origin of ‘Masih’, and the revelations of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, Daniel and Malachi will also prepare us to understand the ‘message of the Kingdom of God’.

The Parable of the Weeds

After the explanation of this parable the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught the parable about weeds.

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Here is the explanation he gave

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) also taught some very brief parables.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

In other words, the Kingdom of God would start small and insignificant in this world but would then grow throughout the world like yeast working through the dough and like a small seed growing into a large plant. It does not happen by force, or all at once, its growth is invisible but everywhere and unstoppable.

Parables of the Hidden Treasure and Pearl of Great Value

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13: 44-46)

These parables focus on the value of the Kingdom of God. Think of a treasure which is hidden in a field. Since it is hidden everyone passing by the field thinks the field is of little value and thus they have no interest in it. But someone realizes there is a treasure there making the field very valuable – valuable enough to sell everything in order to buy it and get the treasure. So it is with the Kingdom of God – a value unnoticed by most, but the few that see its worth will gain great value.

The Parable of the Net

47 “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The Kingdom of God will separate people. This separation will be fully revealed on the Day of Judgment – when hearts are laid bare.

We can see that the Kingdom of God grows mysteriously, like yeast in dough, that it has great value which is hidden from most, and that it causes different responses among people. It also separates people between those that understand and those that do not. After teaching these parables the prophet Isa al Masih then asked his listeners an important question.

51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

What about you?

Isa al Masih teaches on forgiveness

As I watch the world news it seems that bloodshed and violence are increasing all around.  Bombings in Afghanistan, fighting across Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, violence in Egypt, killings in Pakistan, riots in Turkey, school kidnappings in Nigeria, war with Palestine and Israel, towns massacred in Kenya – and these are just what I have heard without looking hard to find the bad news.  On top of this are the multitude of sins, hurts and grievances we have inflicted on each other that do not make news headlines – but which hurt us nonetheless.  In this day of vengeance and retribution, the teaching of Isa al Masih on forgiveness is of utmost importance.  One day his disciples asked him how many times they should forgive.  Here is the account straight from the Injil

The Story of the unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18: 21-35

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

The point of his story is that if we have accepted His mercy, Allah (the King) forgives us so very much.  This was symbolized by the ten thousand bags of gold that was owed him by the servant.  The servant had declared that he needed more time to pay it back.  But that is an amount far too great to ever pay back, so the King just cancelled the entire debt.  This is what Allah does for us if we receive His mercy.

But then this same servant found another servant that owed him one hundred silver coins. He demanded payment in full and would not give the other servant more time.  When we sin against each other there are real hurts and damage, but compared to how our sin has grieved and hurt Allah it is insignificant – like 100 silver pieces compared to ten thousand bags of gold.

So the King (Allah) then sends the servant to jail to pay back everything.  In the teaching of Isa al Masih, to not forgive the real sins and grievances that people have done to us is to forfeit the forgiveness of Allah and condemn ourselves to hell.  This is very serious.

The challenge of course is to do this.  When someone has hurt us the desire for retribution can be very great.  So how can we obtain this spirit that can forgive?  We need to continue exploring the Injil.