If you love Chinse food, you must know a popular dish called “Dongopo Rou,” or “Dongpo Meat.” It’s a sweet, savory, flavorful, and delicious dish named after its inventor Su Dongpo. Su Dongpo was the Benjamin Franklin of 11th Century China during Song Dynasty. Like Franklin, he was multitalented. He had many inventions and was a statesman, poet, chemist, and military strategist.
Due to his popularity as a statesman, Su Dongpo was exiled several times by the king, not because he committed any crime, but to protect him from getting sabotaged by other jealous politicians. He survived three kings, and all three queens loved him. Each time he was exiled, the queen of the time would beg the king to bring him back to the palace. You can imagine how handsome he was.
Unlike Franklin, however, Su Dongpo was not a womanizer. He survived four wives. Each of them died due to the hardship of the exiles or supporting him to fulfill his calling. They were all highly intelligent women who loved him to death, as he loved them the same way.
Like all of us, he had done mischievous things in his youthful years. His best childhood friend, Fo Yin, became a Zen monk. So he visited the monastery often to see his friend. One day, the monk taught him how to meditate. They sat face to face with their eyes slightly close.
Su Dongpo found it amusing to see his friend sitting in his brown robe and got the idea of pulling a prank. He asked, “Fo Yin, what do I look like?” The monk said, “You look like a saint.” Su Dongpo laughed and said, “Do you know what you look like in my partially close eyes.” “Tell me,” the monk asked. “Well, you look like a pile of bull dung. Ha, ha, ha!” The monk stayed quiet.
Su Dongpo went home gleefully, proud of his prank. His sister asked, “What makes you so happy today?” Su Dongpo replied with a big bragging smile, “Well, I got the monk,” and told her the story. His sister said, “Loser! You don’t even know you lost, and he won?” “Why?” Su Dong Po asked.
“Why? Don’t you know, spiritually speaking, you see who you are in others? He sees you as a saint because he is a saint in his heart. You see him as a pile of bull dung because your heart is full of bull dung.” (End of story.)
This story is an excellent parable for me to check my heart and spirit when I see bull dung in people. As an ESTJ, I see bull dung in people more often than I like to. Stories like this keep me in check.
How often do you see bull dung in people? I understand that even though we know enough not to judge people by the color of their skin, we think it’s okay to do so by the content of their character. This story warns us that our judgment could reflect the content of our own character.
We often read in the Bible how the Pharisees and scribes tended to see the tax collectors and many others as sinners and even judged Jesus as the Beelzebub, the head of the devil. That actually reveals their hearts. Jesus warned them bout their rotten hearts,
“For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander.” (Mt 15:19).
King David asked God to give him a clean heart and the right spirit. Without a clean heart, we keep heaven divided and perpetuate suffering in this fallen world. When you have a clean heart, you experience freedom, and you complete heaven.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus teaches us how to see people as God sees them. That is very important teaching because unless we see people the way God sees them, we will not see the kingdom at all. So, let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson today is from the Gospel according to Luke 15:1-10. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:1-10).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
The story begins with Jesus attracting the outcasts, such as the tax collectors and sinners, with his message and befriending and dining with them. The religious leaders despised the tax collectors because they worked for the Roman government that occupied Israel. It says,
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2).
Welcoming the sinners was already inappropriate. Eating with them was utterly unacceptable. The rabbis were not supposed to eat with the sinners because they were ritually unclean, but Jesus did it and triggered the criticism and suspicion of the Pharisees and scribes.
As mentioned above, what the Pharisees saw was a reflection of themselves. They saw them as sinners because they were sinning in their hearts, but Jesus sees them differently because his heart is pure. He sees them as God sees them. Jesus then told three parables to illustrate how God sees those people.
Only two parables are covered in the passage because the third parable is the Prodigal Son, which is long and can stand on its own as a separate message. Jesus told three parables to deliver the same message means it’s crucial. We must get it, or we will miss an essential life lesson.
So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? (Luke 15:3-4).
It takes about a year to raise a sheep to its adulthood. Every sheep represents the time, tear, and toil of the shepherd. So losing one sheep is a significant loss, even one out of a hundred. Jesus used a hundred sheep because it is a complete number. 99 is not a complete number.
That means you matter to God, and heaven is never complete without you. Everyone matters to God, and Jesus wants the Pharisees to know those tax collectors and sinners matter to God. They should have understood that heaven is incomplete without those whom they despised.
In another sense, there were two groups of sinners in the context: public sinners and private sinners. Jesus wants them to know that, by locking those sinners outside their community, they were making heaven incomplete. As a result, they themselves have sinned. Jesus said,
“When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ (Luke 15:5-6).
The shepherd did not scold the sheep for wandering off. “Stupid sheep, why don’t you stay with the herd? Where did you go?” But, the good shepherd lays the sheep on his shoulders and rejoices. It doesn’t matter how the sheep lost their way. What matters is his herd is now complete. Jesus said,
“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 14:7).
There is more joy in heaven not because the repented sinner is more precious but because without them, heaven is incomplete. The word “repentance” in Greek (μετάνοια, metanoia) means change. Sin means living in broken relationships. So repentance means changing from living in broken relationships to healthy relationships.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrated what repentance is like—from a broken relationship with the family to a healthy relationship. But, the elder brother couldn’t rejoice. He didn’t want his brother to come home because he didn’t understand that his family was incomplete without his brother.
In the same way, the Pharisees couldn’t rejoice with Jesus when they saw him bringing in the lost. They wanted them permanently locked outside of heaven.
Traditional theology believes that some people will go to heaven and some will burn in hell. Many Christians feel comfortable with that. But, these parables make us rethink that belief because it teaches us that heaven cannot rejoice as long as one soul falls into hell. God cannot rejoice with just 99 in heaven—not because the 99 are not precious, but because they are incomplete.
Then Jesus tells the second parable,
“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? (Luke 15:8).
In ancient Jewish tradition, a bride is given a chain of ten silver coins to be worn on her forehead on her wedding day and thereafter. It’s like the wedding ring we wear on our fingers. That explains why it’s important for her to search diligently.
Years ago, on a Carabian cruise, I went snorkeling and lost my wedding band in the ocean. Maybe the water was a little chilly, my finger shrunk, and the right became loose and slipped out of my finger. Fortunately, it was a fake wedding band.
Nowadays, many people keep their real wedding band at home and wear a fake one less they lose it. Still, I regrated that I had lost the ring. I wish I could dive down into the ocean to search for it. (Maybe, Ariel, the mermaid, had kept it in her collection of treasures!)
So, if you are wondering what’s the big deal about that silver coin, imagine it was her wedding ring. It’s not just a silver coin but a symbol of love. It’s even more precious for a woman. Here, Jesus reveals the feminine side of God.
Jesus wants you to feel this woman’s heart because that’s exactly how God feels about a lost person, if not more. You are a symbol of love for God. Losing you is like losing a piece of his heart. Just like the song says, “Every time you go away, you take a piece of God with you.”
Every human being is a piece of God, and heaven is incomplete without them. In the same way, we need to see others the way God sees them. I know it’s not easy because we live in this fallen world and have to deal with fallen people.
We know these people eventually crucified Jesus, but he forgave them because heaven is incomplete without them. The message of Jesus Christ on the cross is loud and clear, “You matter to God, and you are to die for!” The second parable ends like this,
When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:9-10).
The repeated theme here, including in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, is the call to rejoice. So, if we can’t rejoice in our hearts, something is wrong. It means we are not sharing God’s perspective of humanity. Inside the mind of a Christian is a never-ending celebration.
Like the hymn, “Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart; Rejoice, give thanks and sing,” we need a pure heart to rejoice. A pure heart is a heart of freedom from preoccupation with hatred—a heart that sees everyone as a precious piece to complete the kingdom, just like John Donne’s famous poem, “No one is an island.” Each is a piece of heaven.
The highest level of consciousness is to realize everyone is a precious piece of heaven. That’s the state of freedom. You will be able to rejoice, like attending a never-ending banquet. In the previous chapter, Jesus told a parable comparing the kingdom of God with a luscious dinner party.
If you belong to the kingdom, you see life as a never-ending carnival cruise and everyone as part of the party—the more, the merrier. Jesus tells these parables to ensure we don’t leave ourselves out like the Pharisees, the scribes, or the elder brother, with no sense of humor because they see people as bull dungs.
Do you know that humor, human, and humility come from the same Latin root word, “humus,” meaning “earth or ground”? That means having a sense of humor and humility makes you human. Without humor and humility, we are not human at all. To be able to rejoice, we need humor and humility.
We often use the expression “humor me” to ask people to give us a chance or to indulge us an opportunity to express ourselves. Jesus is inviting us to humor every human being. Give them a chance. With these parables, Jesus wants us to know that heaven is incomplete without them. So, humor them.
You may be part of the 99, but in God’s heart, heaven is incomplete as long as one is missing. Everyone completes heaven, just as you complete heaven. So, keep a good sense of humor and humility, and see God’s face in every human. You are in the kingdom when you have the freedom to see God’s face in everyone!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound happiness.