A group of VERY IMPORTANT church leaders began to grumble about Jesus. “He ignores us, the movers and shakers, the ones divinely given the leadership of The Church. Instead, he takes his meals with people who don’t even give $5 a year to our coffers, haven’t partaken of the sacraments in years AND even support gay marriage and homosexuals as ordained!
The church will decline in numbers even further if they get their way. Why isn’t he dining with us in the hotel conference room so we can form a new strategy on how to build growing, vital, money-generating congregations with metrics that make the heart soar? How dare he?”
The Three Part Response
Jesus, hearing their complaints, began to tell a story.
Part One: The Loan Shark
One day, the owner of a loan shark business, who also volunteered in the local drug rehab facility as an non-credentialed, uneducated chaplain, noted that one of his clients failed to appear. Till then, that client had always shown up on Friday to pay a pittance against his loan. The loan shark looked at the long lines of the desperate who were trying to keep their heads above water with these payday loans. He shouted at them to go home and come back next week and raced out the door.
After searching every bar, pool parlor, jail and hospital in the area, he came up empty. Finally, in the back alley behind the liquor store, he found his client, drunk and without a penny in his pocket. The loan shark owner dragged him to his car, took him to a shelter and got him a shower and clean clothes. Then he went back to the shop and paid the guy’s weekly payment out of his pocket.
He treated his friends with a beer later saying, “Sure it cost me, but I nearly lost one today–and now he’s been found!”
Part Two: The Housekeeper
A woman had consistently been told by her ministry board that she was not suited to be a pastor. She finally found a job as a housekeeper in a large, no-tell motel. Ten maids worked for her, none documented US citizens. She needed all of them seven days a week in order to keep up with the grueling workload.
One day, only nine appeared. Grateful for her rapidly increasing facility with Spanish, she questioned the others. There had been an INS raid the night before.
She knew if she left the premises, she would lose her job.
But she took off anyway, found an attorney, presented her case and got the woman released. It turned out that her husband in her country of origin had left burn scars all over her body and had told her he’d kill her if she ever showed up again.
The housekeeper took her employee home, called all her friends over and said, “Let’s have a party! I may have lost my job, but I found the one I had lost–and that’s a lot more important.”
Part Three: The Important Businessman
A highly accomplished head of a multi-national company and active lay-person in the church had two sons. He was grooming them to take over the business on his death. The younger one, impatient and disenchanted with being in his older brother’s shadow, formed a different plan. He disrespectfully told his dad off one day and demanded his share of the business immediately, not after his father died.
That powerful businessman looked sadly at his son, knowing how complicated it would be to split his business. But he also loved his son and wanted it to work for him.
The older brother stood nearby, silent with a quiet smile on his face. The father made up his mind: He would go ahead and give his sons the entire business now.
He broke up the company, transferred one part to his youngest son, and gave the larger section to the older son.
He also gave up all his stock options, rights to make any decisions, or even take an income from it. Finally, he retired to a guest house behind the main house. The older son and his family took full occupancy of the elegant mansion.
The father’s sadness grew as he followed the business dealings with the younger son’s division. Eventually, the business failed and bankruptcy followed. His son never responded to his father’s calls, texts or emails. He refused to friend him on Facebook or accept an invitation to connect on LinkedIn.
The older son took over the rest of the business and prospered financially. He assumed important leadership positions in his local church, even contributing so heavily to the Capital Funds Drive that they named the educational building after him.
His dad kept inviting the older son to the guesthouse for a dinner and conversation. However, business, church and family duties kept his time fully occupied. He kept telling his dad he’d come by later but never made it. He had heavy responsibilities, after all.
Years passed. The father grew lonelier. He started doing sophisticated Internet searches to see if he could find any news of his youngest son. Unfortunately, he did: arrests for DUI’s, vagrancy, short stint in jail for drug possession. His attempts to contact the younger son were rebuffed.
People in the church felt sorry for the dad. Rumors, starting with the holy phrase, “We need to pray for . . . ” flew everywhere. Quietly and subtlety, these good, praying church people blamed the father for having done something indefinably wrong and also blamed the younger son for being an ungrateful wretch and silently hoped he’d disappeared for good.
The older brother was held in careful respect by all, although no one really dared cross him. He was said to go into a sulk if he didn’t get his way.
One day the father, aimlessly driving around town, ended up at the local long-haul bus station. He saw a lot of lonely people there. He started hanging around, occasionally buying someone a meal, watching kids so a harried mom or dad could go to the bathroom, listening to sad stories. In time, he learned how to connect people with local social services and help them find a place to stay or even a job. His reward came in seeing some hope in their eyes.
Periodically, he would pray with someone, and tears would flow.
Every time a bus pulled in, he looked up, watched the tired faces as they poured out, and thought about his boy.
This work began to give his life structure and meaning. He showed up at the bus station every day for two and a half years. He learned the names of all the staff, talked with them about his son, learned about their families, joy and sorrows, and helped out when he could. And each time a bus came in, he looked at their faces, holding each in prayer.
One drizzly, frizzly, just-barely-above-freezing-night, about 45 minutes before the last bus of the day was due, the father, unusually weary, decided to go ahead and drive home. Just then, one of the custodial staff asked for his help in unplugging a stopped up toilet. One of the constant problems with the aging and sometimes abused facility.
Really wanting a warm drink and a warm bed, he reluctantly agreed. Because of the chill, he’d put on a new cashmere sweater given to him by his daughter-in-law, along with a Burberry overcoat. He put them aside and rolled up his sleeves.
The complex and time consuming repair left them both splashed with the remains of someone else’s digestive process. They finished just after the last bus arrived. Five exhausted people had already straggled off, but the bus driver had to wake the last passenger, and had half carried, half-dragged him off the bus.
The driver turned to the father–would he help out here and see if he could get him a place to spend the night?
Wearily, the father agreed and sat next to the traveler, by then slumped in a rigid plastic chair with head in hands.
“When did you last eat? Do you have a place to sleep? I might be able to help.”
The traveler said, “No one can help me. I’ve made a mess of my life. I told off my dad years ago, lost my business and all the money he gave me, found out I couldn’t even hold a job, and decided to come home and throw myself on his mercy. Thought maybe he’d hire me to do something . . . and at least I could eat. But now that I’m here, I realize this was a stupid pipe dream, just like all the rest of my dreams. I can’t face him. I’m too ashamed. I wish I were dead.”
The father sat there, quietly stunned. This was his son’s voice. He looked closely at the back of the young man’s head–how familiar it was!
“Son, I’ve been looking for you for years. I have never stopped loving you.”
The father got up, grabbed that good sweater and warm overcoat, and placed them around his son’s shoulders. “Let’s go home.”
Three days later, the older son came home from business travel, first class of course, to find dozens of cars parked both in the driveway and on the well-manicured grass around the back near the guesthouse. He walked into his own quiet, undisturbed house and yelled out, “What’s going on? What are all these cars doing here? The place looks like a low-rent used car lot.”
His perfectly coiffed and exasperated wife said, “It’s that crazy father of yours. I told you he’d gone off his rocker when he started hanging out at the bus station. But would you listen? Nooooo. That rotten, wastrel brother of yours has come home. Your dad is throwing him a giant welcome home party. I’m sure he used what is left of your inheritance by having it catered by the most expensive restaurant in town.”
The older son stalked out the back door and headed purposely toward the guesthouse. He passed groups of laughing people, many in bus company and cleaning staff uniforms. Children ran about everywhere, loud in play and joy.
He stood outside the guesthouse door and saw his brother wearing the cashmere sweater his wife had bought his father.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
“Son! Welcome! Your brother is back. Grab your wife and children and have a steak with us. Let me pour you a glass of wine–I’ve bought the best for this. Just wait until you taste it!”
“Dad– how can you have a party after what he’s done to you? He’s brought shame and embarrassment on all of us. I’ve done nothing but be faithful to you and you NEVER had a party for me. And who ARE these people you invited? None of them has ever been to our church and they are certainly not my employees.”
“Son, anytime you wanted to, we could have partied. Everything I have has always been yours. And today, I celebrate, because what has been lost is found.”