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?

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.