June 9, 2024

Family Life

Family Life

9 June, Second after Trinity
Readings: Gn. 3. 8-15; 2 Cor. 4. 13-5.1; Mk. 3. 20-end.
Theme: Family Life

The reflections on family life in the Bible are somewhat complex. On the one hand it is praised to the utmost and on the other, loyalty to it is sometimes seen as compromising one’s loyalty to God. Our passages from Genesis and from the gospel of Mark today present this tension to us in no uncertain ways.
Clearly honouring one’s father and one’s mother is embedded in the Old Testament Law, as we know from the fifth of the ten commandments. But loyalty to one’s tribe and family is not prized above loyalty to following the Lord and his kingdom, as we know from Matthew 8. 22, ‘follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead’.

This tension comes about because there is a singularity of focus to our relationship with God which should order all our other loyalties. And this is a difficult tension, because, especially if we have a happy experience of family life, these bonds can be very strong indeed.
In our readings for today, we are presented with two different aspects of the tensions between our loyalty to God and to our families. The first reading from the Book of Genesis is the ultimate story of ‘passing the book’; that wonderful story of Adam and Eve in the garden being tempted by the serpent to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge and so gaining awareness of their own nakedeness in the presence of God. The relationship between Adam and Eve in the garden is, in this passage from the book of Genesis, presented as a refusal to take responsibility for the sin that has been committed. Each one blames someone else, Eve the serpent and Adam, Eve. In this account, it is clear that the message of blaming one’s family members is not an excuse which exonerates us from our own individual responsibility.

When it comes to the gospel for today, from St Mark, the tension that is portrayed is that between Jesus and his mission to preach the kingdom of God and his loyalty to his family. The crowds are swarming around Jesus and his family are naturally concerned for him, but he is clear that his focus is on preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus even goes on to say, it is doing the will of God that makes someone part of his family, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother’.

This singularity of focus appears rather abrupt in the context of what is probably the natural concern of the family for the safety and well-being of Jesus. But there is a radicality to Jesus which it is important for us not to try and tame. All things and people are to be subservient to God, for Jesus, nothing and no one is to get in the way of this focus. Not even, the family: ‘Let the dead bury their dead’.

At root the tension that we find in the scriptures between loyalty and honouring one’s family and the single minded focus on God is to be understood in terms of how we order our priorities. It is clear that the radicality of focus of Jesus is based on the fact that his focus is on a what we might call a ‘heaven focused earth’. What do I mean by that? Well, Jesus is not otherworldly, as he is sometimes depicted in pious paintings that I am sure many of us have seen. No, Jesus is very firmly rooted in the ordinary life of living on earth. His very incarnation bears ample witness to the fact that the way that God is present to us in Jesus is from within the reality that we all know. However, Jesus’s presence to us within this reality is not simply to leave it as it is. No, his presence to us in this earthly reality is to transform it into the heavenly reality to which it is destined to become. In other words, heaven and earth are not meant to be held apart as if they belong to two separate realms, they are meant to interpenetrate one another, with heaven transforming earth into the kingdom which Jesus came to preach.

The consequence of this interpenetration of heaven and earth creates a tension that we see clearly in many passages of the Bible, between the here and now and the still yet to come. Most of the parables have this type of tension within them and the ministry of Jesus is continually adverting to the fact that the kingdom is already here and still yet to come. This constitutive tension between the two dimensions of the kingdom, means that heaven is always coming to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit to transform us. Refusal to allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, is effectively, refusal to allow God to be our God, and so the harsh words reserved by Jesus for those who ‘blaspheme against the Holy Spirit’ should be understood in this light.

Such an ordering of earth to its heavenly destiny helps us to understand other passages such as those of Matthew 22.30 which speak of the fact that, ‘At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage, they will be like the angels in heaven’. In other words, the family to which our earthly lives are called to is the universal family of all, united in Christ to the praise of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, however we live our family lives here and now on earth, we should do so in ways which open them to their transformation into the heavenly family to which we all belong as adopted sons and daughters of the Father in our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.