What the Parable of the Prodigal Son and His Loving Father Tells Us About Father God’s Intentions Towards Both the Faithful (Jewish) and Fallen Away (Gentile) Nations of Humanity Descended from Adam and Noah
Along with the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats,1 Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-31) is very important for understanding God’s intentions towards the many fallen away nations of humanity. God called the nation of Israel His “first-born son” (Exodus 4:22) among the nations of humankind, all of whom are God’s sons by the earlier covenants with Adam and Noah,2 and God gives His “first-born son” Israel a mission to bring all the “other son” nations back into living in the covenant family household (a mission Israel does not fulfill until it is Israel Renewed by Messiah Jesus, the first, Jewish Christians who at last successfully evangelize the nations of humanity, bringing them back into the Covenant Family in the New Covenant Church). So the principles of the Parable of the Prodigal Son apply not only to individuals who have fallen away from God, but whole nations (that is, civilizations, cultures) of humanity which have fallen away from the one ongoing human Covenant Family which started with Adam. All the “Gentile” nations descended from faithful Noah but broken away from God’s Covenant Family are “prodigal sons” of God the Father in the same way Israel in the Exodus was God’s “first-born son” (Exodus 4:22) – and so just like the father of the prodigal son in the Parable, God is anxiously waiting and longing for the fallen away nations to return to Him, repenting of their sins and errors which cut them off from Him long ago, and God is ready to restore them to full membership in the Covenant Family . In the Parable “the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet” (Luke 15:22). The “ring on his finger” is particularly significant because it means the former “lost son” nations are welcomed back into the Father’s Household with the authority of a true son of the Father (represented by the ring). The Covenant Father longed for these nations to come back into the Covenant Family and they each have something important to add to the Covenant Family.
The “Prodigal Son” Gentile Nations of Humanity (Initially Roman, Greek, Syrian, and Egyptian) Were Restored to Full Membership in the Covenant Family Alongside the Original Jewish Christians as Other National Rites or Sister Churches of the New Covenant Church, the Universal or Catholic Church
This is exactly what happened in the Early Church. God’s chosen “first-born son” nation Israel, renewed by Messiah (the original, entirely Jewish Christian Church), preached the Gospel to the Romans and Greeks and Syrians and so on, all of them nations birthed within family lines long-ago fallen away from the Covenant Family of Adam and faithful Noah, and these nations gradually repented, came back to the Covenant Father their ancestors had left so long ago, and were restored to full membership in the Covenant Family as Rites or Sister Churches of the New Covenant Church, the Universal or Catholic Church . This is what has happened again and again as successful Christian missions gradually bring back entire tribes or nations into the Covenant Family in good standing, and it is what we pray, work and hope for in current Christian missionary endeavors around the world.
Missionary endeavors – old successes and new attempts – always involve the re-grafting of branches broken away from the cultivated “Olive Tree” of the faithful Universal Covenant Family of Adam and Noah. These long-ago broken away branches took root as “wild olive shoots” (Romans 11:17) growing independently of the cultivated Olive Tree, eventually growing into the “wild olive trees” (Romans 11:24) of Gentile nations, until branches of these wild olive tree Gentile nations were at last re-grafted into the cultivated “Olive Tree” as Sister Churches within the Universal (Catholic) New Covenant Church.
So, to be a Roman Catholic Christian means to belong to a formerly long-ago-broken-away line of the faithful “Olive Tree” Covenant Family of Noah which (as a “wild olive shoot” taking root on its own, apart from the cultivated Olive Tree it broke away from) eventually developed into Pagan Rome and was then, through the New Covenant of Jesus Christ preached by its original Jewish members, restored to Covenant Family membership in good standing, grafted back into the cultivated “Olive Tree” of the ongoing faithful People of God, as one of the Gentile “Sister Churches” within the Universal (Catholic) Communion of Sister Churches, Jew and Gentile, the “one new man” of the Body of Christ (see Ephesians 2).
God is Lawmaker and Judge Only Because He is First a Loving Father, Who Establishes the Family Rules (Law) and Enforces Them (Judgement)
Although it is true that God makes laws for humankind to follow, and He judges humankind for how they have followed them, IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER that it is the Holy Trinity of Love who created us only to adopt us into His Family, and who did so, through both the quickly lost supernatural adoption and the covenant adoption that would ensure humanity would always be His adopted child, who is the Lawmaker and Judge. The roles of Lawmaker and Judge are subordinate to God’s role as Covenant Father to all humanity (those still living under the Family roof and those estranged “prodigal sons” or “runaways”). God is a lawmaker only because He is first the Father who makes the family household rules (laws) for the ultimate good of the children. So if God is a judge, the courtroom is the family living room. If this proper order is not remembered, it is easy to lose the sense of the God who is love for a warped sense of a God of wrath. But in terms of Family Theology, God’s wrath is motivated by love (as above) and even curses are nothing more than the set consequences for breaking the Family Rules (Covenant Law). All the many curses in the reorganized Mosaic Law after Israel’s major sins were simply God telling his “first-born son” Israel that “if you do what I told you not to, this is what will happen to you” – set consequences for sinning against love which serve the purposes of 1) motivating them to obey the Family Rules (Covenant Law) if they take the curse seriously, and 2) as a disciplinary measure (if they do not take the warning seriously and come under the curse and suffer the set consequences) which will motivate them to come back to obeying the Family Rules so they can get out from under the curse. Curses work as set consequences for immature sins against love designed to help the Covenant Family of God who is Love to mature in love! What was left of the nation of Israel, the Jews from the Tribe (and Southern Kingdom) of Judah, matured most only after enduring the worst of the Covenant curses, exile of the whole nation (in Babylon). Because of having to endure the fatherly disciplinary curse of exile, they finally got the message that it was better for them to consistently do things the Father’s way not their own immature way. God’s curses are only for helping His family mature in love.
Through the Series of Biblical Covenants God Raises His Covenant Child Humanity to Gradually More Mature Standards of Love Just Like Human Parents Raise Their Children
It is important to remember that God as Covenant Father raises His child humanity according to similar stages that human parents raise their children. Noah and his family, who become the Noahic Covenant Family of God, the “Olive Tree” of God’s people, a continuation of the Sethite line of “sons of God” (Genesis 6:2,4) in God’s Adamic Covenant family, represent humanity (adam) now mature enough for a more advanced covenant law (family rules), though still very simple compared to what was to come. The covenant law (family house rules) of the Adamic covenant was simply “do not eat the fruit of this tree,” a simple rule to test the child adam’s obedience, to train the child humanity simply to obey the Father’s directions whatever they are (as a human parent must first train his small child simply to obey, the child’s understanding of why obedience to the parents’ directions protects the child from harm or is otherwise for their own good coming later). God’s directions to Noah – to build a boat on dry land – had continued this kind of training, to just obey whatever Father God tells you, and Noah, who will represent all humanity descended from him as did Adam, had learned the lesson, showing that humanity was ready for the next step. So God the Father then lays down a few specific family rules (covenant law), primarily “thou shalt not murder” (cf. Genesis 9:5-6), specifically prohibiting murder, the violent sin of Cain which had eventually engulfed the whole line of Adam except for Noah and brought the Covenant Father’s strong (but necessary and loving) discipline of the Flood to end it. In this period of the Noahic Covenant (and even the Abrahamic Covenant, a “grant covenant” in which God promised Abraham and his descendants that they would bless all the nations of the world, but God did not require any higher moral standard), God tolerated many behaviors – like Jacob’s polygamy – which were not in God’s ideal of Love – just like parents of very young children tolerate many less than ideal behaviors until the children are more mature and more capable of controlling such behaviors.
The 10 Commandments given to Israel at Mount Sinai in the Covenant with Moses (the Mosaic Covenant) will teach the Covenant Family a much higher standard of how to be loving to both God and humankind (primarily by specifying how to avoid the anti-love of sin). After Israel’s sin, especially worshiping the Golden Calf (and then after the Baal Peor idolatry), God will reorganize the Covenant (only the Tribe of Levi will now be priests, and so on) and spell out for them exactly how to avoid sin by making a much more detailed law (which applies the 10 Commandments to Israel’s very specific circumstances — see Footnote 3 below),3 and God will even, especially in Deuteronomy, give concessions to Israel’s immature weakness – rules which rather than prohibiting sin (which they are not yet mature enough to follow) instead regulate sin so it doesn’t get totally out of control – such as laws regulating slavery and polygamy – things against the ideal of love which God never endorses but only gives limits to so that Israel, who is too immature to stop altogether, will not take such things too far. Human parents also make such concessions to the immature weakness of their children: human parents also, once the children have proven themselves as yet incapable of behaving as the parents would like or doing the chores they would like, temporarily require lesser standards, they lower their expectations of their children for the time being – while still letting the children know that their expectations (and the children’s responsibilities) will be higher when they are older.
When Israel is older and more mature, as Jesus Christ preaches the Kingdom, the inauguration of the New Covenant, in His Sermon on the Mount, He will raise the standard of God’s moral expectations much higher than the 10 Commandments (which for the most part simply prohibited unloving actions). The new standard becomes the perfection of love – “be ye perfect, as your father in Heaven is perfect.” Instead of just avoiding doing unloving things (“thou shalt not…”), Christians in the New Covenant are supposed to actively seek out opportunities to love – these are the new Covenant Family standards we are supposed to work towards now that the Covenant Family has matured enough to be able to work on these. As Israel never was absolutely perfect at keeping the old expectations of the Mosaic Covenant, but they strove to master them as best they could (and by the end of the Old Testament were much better at keeping the standard than when they started), so the New Israel of the Church is not perfect at keeping the new standard – as the Church’s failures in love and many Christian divisions testify – but we as God’s Covenant children are called to strive to master these as best we can – empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to reach much greater heights than was previously possible (the 3rd Millennium is our opportunity as Christians to show God the Covenant Father that as Israel after the Exile became much more mature, so we Christians can become much more mature in love and heal our 2nd Millennium divisions, restoring the lost loving unity in diversity of the Undivided 1st Millennium Church).
The Canonized Saints of the Church represent New Covenant children who achieved a very high degree of the perfection of love, empowered by the Holy Spirit, while still not absolutely perfect (which cannot be achieved as long as we remain in “the body of death,” [Romans 7:24] – our reborn souls still awaiting resurrected bodies – Romans 8:22,23). The uncanonized saints of the Church (all Christians) have as much potential as they did to become very mature Christians, mature members of the Body of Christ who exhibit Christ’s characteristics in a very high (though imperfect) degree, and we are all called to strive for this maturity in love as they did, encouraged by the example of the level of maturity in love these older brothers and sisters in God’s Family achieved, starting with what we all start with – a fallen human nature restored in Christ, remaining in “the body of death” but with access to God’s Grace!
© 2007, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO
1The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats describes the judgement specifically of the nations, that is, the judgement of the Gentiles fallen away from the Covenant Family, on the basis of how they acted motivated by love – Matthew 25:31-46. See also Romans 2:6-16 about the Law of God “written on the hearts” of those who did not have the Mosaic Law but who kept it anyway. The whole context of the Sheep and the Goats is Jesus teaching the faithful Jews how the non-Jewish nations (the Gentiles) will be judged. This basis of judgement for those fallen away from the ongoing Covenant Family can be looked on as how well they kept the older covenants their ancestors fell away from, which were not so specific in how they defined the standards of love the God of Love was raising the Covenant Family to (and which had not revealed the nature of God Himself in as precise terms as the later Covenants – God did not demand as clear and precise theological knowledge of His nature from His children of the older Covenants).
2See Exodus 19:5-6, wherein Israel is called “out of all nations,” “although the whole earth is mine.” All the nations of the earth belong to God, “the whole earth is mine,” through the covenants with Adam and Noah, but the nation of Israel is specially called from among them, through the covenants with Abraham and the one about to be made with Moses, as God’s faithful “first-born son” nation among these nations all of which are sons of God by the earlier covenants – even though runaway, prodigal sons, who are supposed to be led back to God by “first-born” Israel’s faithful example.
3For example, Israel is to sacrifice specifically the animals the Egyptians worshiped (like cows – the Golden Calf is specifically an image of the Egyptian bull-god Apis), and to not eat the animals (like pigs) the Egyptians offered in sacrifice and ate. Much of the detailed minutiae of the Mosaic Law after Israel’s sins is a very specific application of the simple 10 Commandments to the specific situation Israel is in (coming out of idolatrous Egypt) or will be in once they take possession of the Promised Land currently peopled by Canaanite idolaters. “Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk” is a law that prohibits a specific Canaanite idolatrous ritual. That is, in order to obey the First Commandment to “have no other Gods before Me” the child Israel needs to be told very specifically, “don’t do this, don’t do that or this” (since all these specific practices are related to Egyptian or Canaanite idolatry). Therefore many of these specific laws were not repeated in the New Testament for the New Covenant Church, while the 10 Commandments were – they were applications of the 10 Commandments to circumstances which were no longer valid for New Covenant Christians. Even the great medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides recognized the details of the Mosaic Law as a specific anti-idolatry regimen which protected Israel from slipping back into the Egyptian idolatry they had lived in for centuries.
It is worth noting, however, that God is so great and wise that the Mosaic Law’s “kosher” (ritually clean) food laws not only helped wean Israel from idolatry, they also kept Israel physically healthy. Modern nutritionists confirm that eating “kosher” according to the Law of Moses is a very healthy way to eat. Israel would become generally healthier than its neighbors by eating “kosher,” which makes the food laws certainly part of the “enlightened laws” of Israel which God intended to make other nations look to Israel for guidance. Eating kosher is then a legitimate choice for Christians, and especially for the new Jewish Rite Christians (“Messianic Jews” and “Hebrew Catholics”) since it is also part of their Jewish cultural identity – as long as this healthy cultural practice is subordinated to the norms of the Christian Gospel, wherein Jesus taught “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’ … In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean” (Mark 7:15,19). Also “The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him … For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men” (Romans 14:3, 17-18).