In the spirit of this summer series of studying the parables of Jesus, let me write one of my own.
Imagine that the day comes that you get to go to heaven – to that wonderful mansion that Jesus spoke of in John 14 that has been prepared for you. And after Saint Peter has shown you your new abode, pointing out where you can find the towels and linens, etc., you decide you should go out and meet the neighbors. You introduce yourself to the fellow next door and you find out that his name is Jeffrey … Jeffrey Dahmer…
And you say, “You know, that name is familiar, why do I remember it? Were you the Heisman-winning quarterback for the Wisconsin Badgers, or something like that?”
And he says, “No, but you got the Wisconsin part correct; but I was the guy who raped and killed 17 boys … and then I put some of them in the freezer and ate them later on. But that was then, and this is now … so, how about coming to dinner at my place tonight?”
It really could happen. A pastor named Roy Ratcliffe ministered to Dahmer in prison, eventually baptizing him in a prison whirlpool, and he wrote a book called “Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith.”
A prisoner can grow more resentful for the treatment received in prison. Many certainly do that. Or a prisoner can develop new criminal skills and figure out how not to get caught the next time. Some also do that. Or, a prisoner can reflect on the crimes and the lifestyle that lead to such a place and make a new decision: “I’ll never do that again, so help me God. Jeffrey Dahmer felt great remorse, which he confessed on several occasions. He had ruined his life beyond repair. … Who could he turn to except God? Certainly, no human would hear the cries of his heart and believe the depth of his sorrow. Only God could. … He began to see the case for God and to see Jesus as the only answer for the havoc he had wreaked in his life. He began to have hope for his ultimate fate. Is it possible that God could really love him – Jeffrey Dahmer? Could the salvation that Jesus offers be available to him, too, despite his heinous acts? Did Jesus die for Jeffrey Dahmer too?
You might be thinking, “Hold it! Yes, grace is greater than all our sin and all that, but, eating other people … that’s just over the line! That’s too hard to digest that God’s grace goes that far!”
The older brother in the parable (and the Pharisees in real life listening to Jesus) thought the younger brother was beyond value or worth in saving and being reconciled to the father/Father. But the big idea of the story is to see that no matter how big or small the sin of one who is restored to relationship with God, the Father’s joy is expansive beyond all comparison.
Our title this week of “Two Kinds of Lost” is represented by the two brothers. The younger brother was lost in sin and foolishness, was separated from the father and essentially dead. The older brother was lost in a sea of self-righteousness, and to some extent was also lost in not understanding the privileges and riches he had as a son – he almost saw himself as just a hired hand.
Hopefully, you the reader are not one or the other kinds of lost as seen in the brothers.
I trust you are not away from God and in a spiritually lost condition of no real relationship with the heavenly Father. Have you ever seen your lost condition for what it is and it a moment in time were reconciled to God through Christ?
I also hope you are not “older brother lost.” You’ve become critical and bitter; you see yourself as at a higher place because you’ve been a part of God’s family for a long time. You’re not quite perfect, but you’re doing pretty well. Your zeal to reach out to lost people is pretty much gone, because you can see that those people are just too far away to ever be reached.
And maybe you are neither of these. Maybe you are beyond being one or the other – I trust and believe many of you are. And if you are, it is because you understand we are all a Jeffrey Dahmer before God. Our slogan should not be “We are Charlie Hebdo,” but rather “We are Jeffrey” … we are all lost. None have a perfect record, and the amount of debt large or small is not the issue, not when you have a payment so great as is offered in Christ. We should all cease from quantifying the debt of anyone else, but rather with great thankfulness recall that our debt has been paid fully, along with that of all others we know who have trusted in Christ.