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How should a Christian participate in a family?
Adriaen van der Werff , Battesimo di Cristo, 1710A few highlights from the Sunday meeting.
Forgive your nuclear family for how they have wronged you. In my personal experience, my family has been a source of joy and pain. I actually didn’t know if those personal wounds would ever be healed, but my life in the Body of Christ actually makes relating to my family easier. It’s true that our complications with our family systems may make relating to the church at large even harder. It might be hard to enter in because we have wounds from our family. It might be hard for us to start a new family, begin a relationship, or even have kids because of what has happened in the past.
You aren’t your past. You are more than your past. Your past can be redeemed, but more importantly, you can be redeemed too. Your old self can be taken off and your new self can be put on. You can clothe yourself with your new identity in Christ and revisit your past and begin the process of letting go, forgiveness, and even reconciliation.
The heart of our faith is forgiveness. I’m not sure that a relationship with those who have injured us in the past is always possible, but I think forgiveness is something that is ours to manage. You can imagine this if you are Jesus. The way the Gospels portray his death squarely puts much of the responsibility on his Jewish comrades. We see an inkling of it in Matthew 23. Jesus is fed up with his closest, his brothers and sisters, the Jewish leaders, and he mourns their loss and how they are about to sell him out.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:37-39
He weeps over them. He cries over them. He laments their betrayal. The Romans, who at least share an equal responsibility for the death of Jesus, have a different kind of relationship with him. I suppose Jesus may not have expected much different from his Gentile enemies; the captors of Israel. But the Jewish leaders, and especially the scribes and Pharisees, were supposed to be his friends. He weeps over them.
For those of us who have been injured by our families, we may need to weep over them. And then like the Good Lord does on the cross, forgive them, for they may not what they do. We may need to dig up the painful memories that we have hidden away. That may lead the way for us to have a family life now that isn’t just an unconscious recapitulation of what we came from.
Following Jesus may mean revolutionizing how you relate to your family Jesus really does
Flevit super illam (He wept over it), Enrique Simonet, 1892think whoever follows him is his family, so it is no surprise that he takes the Jewish leaders not following him—and killing him—so personally. In fact, in quite a famous passage, Jesus demonstrates this radical commitment to the cause. The scene occurs earlier in Matthew, perhaps Matthew is foreshadowing the woes that Jesus articulates in Matthew 23:
While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:46-50
I don’t think we have much evidence that Jesus had a lot of trouble with his blood relatives, but he is saying something more here. That the Body of Christ is the family and the mission it engages in is the family business. It is redefining.
In millennial Philadelphia, where people are increasingly living alone, our sense of family is pretty segregated. So maybe for us saying something like Jesus did isn’t so far off. But for him to say such a thing in Ancient Palestine was quite radical. His followers were certainly known for being just as radical too. Consider when they were called for a moment:
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22
Peter and Andrew, brothers, leave their nets and follow him. The sons of Zebedee do the same. They leave their family and the business to start this new journey.
For Jesus followers, our journey to follow Jesus may involve letting go of our family’s expectations, but moreover, beckoning them to join us too. How is a Christian supposed to have a family? By including them in the great family and the great Body of Christ.
At the Love Feast this weekend we had a great reminder of that kind of inclusion. We were literally receiving new family members, as fifteen of us took a step of commitment and inclusion.
Our children are best influenced to be followers of Jesus by being included in the Body, with parents who are committed to serving God. As a father, I also feel a responsibility for my family. Parents are probably the greatest influence on our children. We may feel pressure to teach them the right doctrine or even the right Bible stories, but my instinct leads me to want to include them in the Body of Christ. My thought to help them experience the love of Jesus through the greater family instead of making sure they have all the facts down. We see Jesus doing this, just touching the children around him, honoring them, and including them.
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. Matthew 19:13-15
The disciples rebuke the kids—who aren’t in a position of familiar prominence in Ancient Palestine. Our kids are ignored too, it seems. Our schools are underfunded, programs designed to help kids go unnoticed. They are short, too, so sometimes we just miss seeing them.
Even though I think parents are responsible for their kids and their faith, I think the church plays a role of inclusion and love. In fact, when kids are part of our live, we might free them from the encumbrances and pressures that come from the nuclear family system. Having other adults be a part of a child’s life is a great way to share love and Jesus. It’s a great way to let the little children come to Christ.
Parents have to model to their children too that there is something bigger than just our nuclear family. It can be a challenge to participate in the church fully with young children, in particular. I felt those kinds of limitations maybe this week more than any. Having a demanding toddler wears on all parents of them, and so how we lead them and how we model for them is important.
Parents taking care of their own spiritual lives—sharing their money, being a part of a cell, worshipping at the public meetings, at a minimum—shows our ever observant children that faith and participation in the Body of Christ is important. They aren’t the center of our world despite their attempt at becoming so. This is important for our kids, but also our whole families—our spouses and parents too.
I’m not trying to prescribe anything. This isn’t prescriptive and how you raise your family is something you’ll have to decide about what to do, but I do think Jesus has something to say about how you do it.