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. 2 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
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “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? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 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
8 “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? 9 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?