I will paint the setting and then tell you the story as told by the original orator.
He was mixing and mingling with people of dodgy reputations. That group that is often looked down upon by society. Yep! Jesus was eating and drinking with them!
Now the religious leaders of the day, kept their distance from this motley lot, in the same way the segregation in America’s history separated blacks from whites.
They thought they were higher than this sector of society. They trusted in their works of good behaviour, their memorising of scripture, and their clean clothing.
They relied on these things to give them access to the prominent places in public gatherings, and they were consumed with drawing attention to themselves as being pious to the point that they lost sight of the needs of the people, and their role to care for them.
They were horrified that he was even eating with them, laughing and hugging them as if they were old friends of his, and they were not shy to let him know, and those around him of their disgust.
Jesus didn’t miss a beat. He knew exactly what they were saying and thinking. So, their grumbling triggered this story, I call it ‘The Lost and the Reckless’.
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep in the field and one goes missing. Won’t you leave the ninety-nine in the open wilderness and go searching for that lost one? And when you find it, you can be sure you’d put it over your shoulders and rejoice when you get home, calling all your friends to come and celebrate with you.”
“I tell you” he said, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who is rescued, than ninety-nine who don’t need rescuing.”
Well this story certainly flies in the face of the old adage, “the needs of the many out weight the needs of the few”.
From God’s perspective every person, regardless of their state or reputation in life, is worth searching, seeking and saving. God would go to extreme lengths to save just one person! He is very personal and when they are saved, there is great celebration in heaven! (Regardless that there might be some jealousy on earth)
He carried on saying, “Imagine a woman who had ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and clean the entire house looking everywhere until she finds that lost coin? And when she finds it, you can be sure she’ll invite all her friends saying, ‘come celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost coin!’ You can count on it – that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost person turns to God.”
In the Bible, the church is referred to as a woman – she is the bride of Christ.
How interesting that Jesus would tell this story, that even in her house (the church) there are people (coins) whose value has not diminished in anyway, yet, they are lost as they sit in her house every week.
After nearly 30 years in full time ministry, I still see many who have been sitting in church for years, finally encounter Jesus and surrender their lives to him … and over this, the angels party!
Then He told one more story about ‘The Reckless’
“There was once a man, who had two sons. The younger said to his father, “I want my inheritance now! I’m amazed that the father granted this, given that it wasn’t the cultural thing to do in that part of the world.
“Before long, the younger son had his bags packed and he left for the city life, with the bright lights and all its action! There he wasted all he had on dissipated and reckless living. After he had spent all his money, a bad famine hit the country, and he began to hurt.
“He finally found someone who hired him to feed his pigs! ‘What have I done’ he thought to himself, ‘pigs are unclean animals in my culture, yet here I am starving to eat their food, but no-one will give any to me!’”
That was enough to bring him to his senses, “my dad has all those servants at home, who have three meals a day – yet here I am about to starve! I’m going back to my dad! I’ll say to him, dad, I’ve sinned against God and before you. I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me back as a servant.”
At that he got up and went home to his father.
His father saw him, while he was still a long way off. With his heart pounding he ran out to meet his son, embraced him and kissed him (with all his filth and stink, this is my input not Jesus)
The son started his speech, “Father I’ve sinned against God and before you, I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again”.
But the father wasn’t even listening. He called his servants, “Quick! Clean clothes for him! Put on the family ring! And sandals on his feet, then get that fat calf we’ve been saving and roast it – today we’re going to feast! My son, who was given up for dead, is now alive. He was given up as lost, but now he’s found!”
Did you see it?
The interaction between son and dad.
The son wasn’t just covered in mud stinking from pig poo! He was also covered in shame and reeking with guilt! In his shame he felt undeserving to return as a son.
And in his guilt of reckless living, he asked to return as a servant, so as to pay penance, somehow, for his youthful stupidity.
Over the years, I have seen many young men and women (myself included) who have made a mess of their lives, even after they’ve committed their hearts to Jesus and from their mistakes, both recent and past, they come back home to Christ wanting to be forgiven, wanting to come back to the Father, wanting to be back in his love. Yet they are covered in shame and guilt, and almost always I hear their efforts to try and make it up to God by serving Him more diligently than before as a faithful servant.
Jesus tells us the response of the Father, “But the Father wasn’t even listening ….”
The Father would not entertain what the son was asking for, because as far as the Father was concerned, he was his son - not a servant!
Whenever someone comes back home to the Father through Jesus, God receives them as a son or daughter. He covers their shame with his cloak, he puts the family ring on them restoring their identity, he puts shoes on their feet, so they can walk again with dignity, and he celebrates their return!
Perhaps, like the sheep, you feel like Jesus won’t notice you if you are gone because he’s caring for so many others. Or perhaps you’ve been sitting in church for so long, yet you still feel lost, not knowing the one who is searching for you, while you’re in need of a Saviour. Or perhaps you’re that son or daughter covered with shame and guilt wanting to come back to God.
I have good news for you – God the Father runs to embrace you and welcome you home as His child.
All you need to do, is cry out to Jesus and repent. Please let me know if you have.