Now for a third time, Jesus is at the home of a prominent Pharisee. His presence in the house attracts the attention of tax collectors and other sinners. Guess it would be like the everyday, ordinary fans – who can’t afford to go to the concert – hanging around outside the home of the well-heeled patron when their favorite celebrity musician goes into a gala affair.
Jesus, though, is a celebrity who spends a lot of time mixing with and caring for the everyday, low class, low down people who want to hear his message. And when that crowd, shows up outside the Pharisee’s door, it reminds the religious authorities that Jesus doesn’t just dine with them, he spends a lot of time with those other people. He socializes with people they wouldn’t consider fit for their tables.
I wonder how often we keep others at arm’s length because of our perceptions of them. I wonder how often we create a comfortable distance by categorizing people into certain types. We do this because it gives us power of others. We do it because it makes us feel safe. We name others as we wish, giving them labels and categories, assigning worth and value and status.
But in God’s kingdom, there isn’t a scale by which we rank the worth of others. In fact, Jesus is teaching that our place in the kingdom of God is found by giving up our power to name and assign a value to others. Or place in the kingdom of God is found by giving up our place and creating space at the table. Jesus is teaching that our place is to listen for the voice of those who like sheep have gone astray. Our place is to seek out those who feel of less worth than a forgotten coin because they are of great value. Jesus is teaching that in God’s kingdom, everyone is equally at home. You can either join the search party and rejoice when the lost are found, or you can miss the party – and the kingdom – altogether.
Hearing their grumbling Jesus tells a trilogy of parables, all with the same plot. A character is lost. The character is found. A party of great rejoicing is thrown and everyone is invited to attend.
When Jesus gets to the third parable, the Pharisees would have relished the details of the outrageously poor behavior of the younger son and the terrible fix he gets himself through his own fault. They would have wondered at the outrageously extravagant welcome by the father. They would have understood the completely understandable consternation – fury even – of the older son. And so do we. If the Pharisees were the older son, they would have refused to go into the party, stood outside the house, and reprimanded the Father for the way he treated a sinner and the way he treated the righteous, because holding on categories matter more to him than his brother.
We completely understand the older brother’s behavior.
I wonder if the Pharisees heard the Father say to his older son, “You have always been with me. All that is mine is yours. You are always with me. All that I have is yours.”
I wonder if we do.
The Good News of the kingdom of God is that there is a place for everyone, even for the clean, healthy, righteous, rule-abiding of us. There is a place for the dullest of Pharisees and for the most outrageous sinner. There is room in God’s house for the most reckless sheep and the most hidden coin. All of us are valued.
And always, always, always there is rejoicing.