By Thomas Morehead
There was no greater bond in Old Testament times than that of family. The tie to one’s family was the paramount relationship in one’s life. A person was literally defined by his or her family. At that time family was much more extended than today and generally closer in proximity and interaction. One’s extended family could number into the hundreds all of whom would likely live and work in a close and relatively closed environment.
The parable of the prodigal son is much more powerful when viewed in this light. The sin the younger son committed began with his turning his back on his family. To request his inheritance and deny his obligations to his family would have been viewed by the Hebrews as hideous. One of the most terrible sins a son could commit. The balance of what he did, squandering his wealth and crawling back in shame, were not nearly as bad as the initial rejection of his family. Those who listened to Jesus tell this parable must have been dumbfounded when the father accepts the son back into the family with all of his original rights and privileges. This action on the part of the father was totally contrary to the norm. No father of that time would have allowed a family member to return once they had so rejected their obligations. In this light the reaction of the elder son is much more understandable as well.
At another point in the gospels Jesus was told that His mother and brothers wanted to speak with Him. He responded by asking “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” And then referring to His disciples He makes an awesome and powerful comment, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Take a moment and read Mt 25, 31-46)
With these few words Jesus tells us who the members of the Kingdom of God are and what it is that we must do to be in God’s Kingdom!
Jesus believed there to be two Kingdoms; one of the world - ruled by Satan, and one of heaven - ruled by God. In His mind there were no neutral parties. You were either a member of one or the other. In Jesus’ time the kingdom of the Satan set boundaries, it divided people. Family against family, tribe against tribe, sect against sect, nation against nation, all of these divided and excluded. Associations were setup to exclude, to keep apart those not considered worthy of inclusion.
Jesus was criticized for associating with the poor and sinners. However it is important to point out that He also associated with the scribes and Pharisees. He ate with them, entered their homes, and engaged them in debate. He excluded no one from God’s Kingdom. He did identify behavior that was contrary to the Kingdom of God and was stern in His rebuke. He did not condemn or exclude anyone. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God was open to all. Any who chose to do the will of His heavenly Father.
This then is the first aspect of the Kingdom of God – It is non-exclusionary. God opens His Kingdom to all of His creation. We must do the same. Love all, accept all, even our enemies!