Jesus was choosing to spend his time hanging out with a totally inappropriate crowd, immoral people who lived immoral lives. Just coming into contact with them by accident would have contaminated him; but he welcomed them as friends – and, given the relationship with God he implied for himself, this was tantamount to claiming that these immoral people were friends of God. The religious people had their over-starched knickers in a right twist.
So Jesus told them two stories to illustrate what God was doing. A shepherd had 100 sheep; one evening, counting them into the pen, he found that one was missing; leaving the 99, he searched the wild country through the dark night until he found it; then woke up the neighbourhood and threw a party to celebrate: there is more rejoicing in heaven over one dirty person who is restored than over 99 clean people who don’t need to come back. Or then again, God is like a woman [a scandalous suggestion in itself] who, having lost one of ten coins, literally turns the house upside-down until she finds it; then, in her joy, interrupts all her neighbours going about their own business, urging them to celebrate with her: there is more rejoicing in heaven over one dirty person who is restored than over 9 clean people who don’t need to come back.
And then Jesus changed tack: from illustrating what God was doing to how he was doing it. He told a story about himself and his accusers. He told the story of a son who takes his father’s wealth and squanders it lavishly living among the dirty people, holding none of it back, becoming unclean in the eyes of the Law, becoming cut-off from his father. But this son is not lost: the father does not go searching for him, as he does for the sheep and the coin; and the tale does not end with the same explanation, of angels rejoicing over a repentant sinner. But when the son returns home, the father puts on him the robe of honour and the ring of authority, and prepares a banquet; for this Son was dead, and is alive again…And in the story, he also told of the older son, the one who thought that he could win his father’s approval by slaving for him all his years – not realising that his father loved him unconditionally; who disapproved of dirty people; who stood in judgement and would not join the party.
Does God want his children to be Dutiful and Dull, and resentful of others; or to squander their inheritance on dirty people? And, as a father myself, what do I hope for, for my own children?
Father’s Day , Prodigal Son , dirt