Jesus the Strange Man with Strange Ways and Strange Stories
Today’s readings challenge us with very many strange, outlandish and weird stories so unacceptable to the simple logic of human reasons, impermissible to ordinary Jewish culture and can only gratify us emotionally as stories of the other but not desirous to have a first-person experience of the stories.
Does it not sound so bizarre and grotesquely odd that the man Jesus in spite of his divine character and a Jew of high order decided to dine and wine with tax-collector and sinners? Little wonder his co-high profile Jews reminded him of this debasement of being among such low class personalities.
This was an act forbidden by law that a Jew goes to the house of sinners, have business deals, exchange themselves in marriage e.t.c.
Is it not strange that Jesus breaks this protocol when the Jews have already written these people off the kingdom of God? Hence they preferred to hear that there will be joy over one sinner that is condemned on the last day than to hear that there will be joy over one sinner who repents.
To address the eyebrow raised by the Jews to this regard, Jesus introduced another strange element as an answer to the already created problem! In an attempt to offer his reason for the above strange occurrence, Jesus began to tell the Jews (Scribes and Pharisees) the story of the lost sheep and the joy expressed at its recovery when such story was though known to them but was for them incongruent to the present situation.
Thus the shepherd in Judea had a hard task because of the scarcity of pasture and the occupational hazard inherent in their work. The place of grazing was only a few miles of narrow plateau with no restraining walls from the wild cliffs and deserts of the terrain such that sheep could wander.
This calls for particular attention and high sense of responsibility to the shepherds to avoid losing the sheep. They could trek and follow the strayed sheep’s footprint to find it and they were never to return saying they could not find a missing sheep.
Should they claim its dead, they were to bring home the fleece to prove the sheep is dead as was in the case of Joseph and his brothers.
As if Jesus was not content with the already stated strange messages, he embarrassed his contenders (Scribes and Pharisees) more with the story of the lost coin.
In the Palestinian world, houses were very dark because they were lit by one circular little window of about 18” across. The floor was simply covered with reeds and rushes such that searching for a coin in such a room was a herculean task.
Thus the woman swept the room with the hope of hearing the coin tinkle while she swept the room. Nevertheless, this lost coin may have been one of her precious gift of ten silver coin hair-dresses given to her at marriage as was the tradition of the people.
This was so precious and inalienable for every Jewish girl.
The litany of Jesus’ strange answers continued as he brought in the story of the prodigal son. Though Deu. 21:17 gives the rule on the ratio of sharing the father’s property after death as two-thirds and one-thirds for the elder and younger sons respectively, the younger son made a request of his while the father was still living. What a strange show of irresponsibility on the part of this son.
Even when he squandered the money abroad, Jesus introduced another strange occurrence so abominable to the Jews: that the boy was hired to feed swine.
The Jewish code stated, “Cursed be the man who would breed swine.” The Torah has a particular aversion for swine such that they rejected everything about it.
This is manifest in the closing words to the book of Isaiah, the verse states: “. . . those who eat the flesh of the swine and the detestable thing and the rodent shall perish together…” Is 66:17. It symbolizes deception and hypocrisy that earned it its unique infamy among the Jews.
What really upset the Pharisees, however, was not just that Jesus had meals with these people, even though there were some purity issues involved with doing that, but that Jesus had the gall to ‘forgive sinners’ and allow them to accompany him, without the traditional demands called for by the Jewish Law.
JESUS WAS A SINNER MAGNET. Whenever and wherever he showed his face the sinners came flocking: The tax collectors and the sinners, meanwhile, were all seeking his company to hear what he had to say. They like to be with him, in his company, and they liked to hear him speak.
Jesus’ strange answers to the Pharisees were calculated to instill in them the boundless mercy of God. This mercy that has no knowledge of geographical boundaries, political kingdoms nor cultural heritages.
It is unmerited divine favor which does not actually come to us because we are worthy. Always remember no human person is worthy before God. Don’t become the elder son who was unable to forgive the younger brother and was jealous of his father’s love for his brother so much so as to describe his brother with bad reputes.
He condemned his brother to have spent his money with prostitutes even when the story does not expressly depict such.
In the second reading, the letter to Timothy, Paul says that he was once one of those sinners that the Pharisees talked about. He accuses himself of blasphemy, violence and persecution.
But, he says, God’s grace came to him: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the foremost.” And finally, he says that God has made him an example of someone he had patience with, and waited for, and rejoiced at his conversion, giving him the gift of eternal life – the party in heaven.
How many times have we interceded for sinners? What has been your role to sinners; Moses’ or the elder brother’s? Do we condemn sinners like the later or pray for their repentance and forgiveness as the first.
What is the place of sacrament of reconciliation in your life; perfunctory or born of contrite heart and readiness to make amend?
Unfortunately, some parents find it very hard to forgive their children! This is heartbreaking! May the episode of today be a lesson to such parents.
Do you fully engage life even though it is messy and challenging? Do you love? Are you always thankful? Do you forgive? Have you accepted forgiveness? Is there anything you are unable to forgive? Is there anyone whom you are unwilling or unable to forgive? Is there anything about you for which you are unwilling to receive forgiveness? Have you reconciled practically and effectively … with whom? Have you been lost? Can you associate even with those who are lost at the moment? Have you been found? Are they still people we refer as osu?
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