Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Family Values

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 -- Week of 2 Lent

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 953)
Psalms 61, 62 (morning) 68:1-20(21-23)24-36 (evening)
Genesis 42:1-17
1 Corinthians 5:1-8
Mark 3:19b-35

The conflicts that Mark presents to us are fascinating. Jesus' activity has stirred up controversy. He goes home and finds family resistance. They try to restrain Jesus from continuing because people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." Authorities from Jerusalem have a strong accusation: "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons."

Jesus lived in a very stable culture, where a son usually followed in a father's footsteps, taking the family business and caring for it. A successful life -- the model and ideal -- would be a life in which a young man would work in his family's business until he inherited the leadership, and then would continue in that tradition so that when he passed it along, nothing would have been lost and nothing gained. The ideal family would be one in which generations would ply the same trade or fields in the same economic condition as their ancestors.

For someone to try to advance their family's wealth or social position was deeply problematic. It was a violation of the cultural norms and regarded as acting sinfully, acting out of greed. Greed was very possibly the most serious offense. The underlying assumption was that resources and wealth are a zero-sum game. If someone gains, someone else must lose. Therefore, for you to increase your wealth, it must be at the expense of someone else. Your greed is someone else's suffering. This was the cultural norm, and this world view exercised a powerful influence over the culture that Jesus lived in.

There was great social pressure for a son, especially an eldest son, to lead the family by maintaining the family's position, economically and socially. One bad son could upset generations of faithful sons by failing to do his part and sending his family into perpetual shame and ruin.

So when Jesus did not enter into the work of Joseph, but became a traveling teacher, it was a cause of scandal, local shame, and potential family ruin. We have several stories of his family's resistance to his work.

Jesus' response is a radical one. In a culture that is dominated by one's duty to family, a culture where identity was entirely dictated by one's family situation, Jesus upsets the powerful conventional family values. Jesus redefines the understanding of family beyond the limits of blood. "Here are my mother and my brother! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Now this is crazy talk, at least that's how it would have been perceived from the perspective of his family and culture. I'm trying to think of some parallels. How about this? I stir up a group of followers and we set up my teaching and feeding in the front yards of a half dozen residents down the street. The home owners protest, saying, "What are you doing on my property? Who gave you permission?" "This land is your land; this land is my land. The land belongs to God and God belongs to all of us. Who can claim to own the land? The land belongs to us all!"

Imagine how that might play in Fayetteville or elsewhere in the U.S. If you feel some sense of outrage or scandal, you've got a taste of how radical Jesus' behavior was from the perspective of the normal family values of his time. He created families that were divided against themselves.

I think the fact that James the brother of our Lord became the first leader of the Jerusalem church following the resurrection and that Mary his mother was identified with the movement, though it took her away from Nazareth, are powerful testimonies to the truth of the resurrection. If his family, who resisted his ministry and interfered with his work, who knew him most intimately from the humble perspective of childhood -- if they followed him as Lord and worshiped him as the Risen One, something remarkable must have happened to change their perspective of their prodigal son.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 9:11 AM, Blogger The Underground Pewster said...

And what if an Episcopal congregation in were to say the same thing to it's Bishop? "You are not my Bishop because we feel you are not following the way of Christ." This is what is going on in the Episcopal Church in some dioceses. In these places the mantra may be heard "Whoever does the will of God is my Bishop."
The opposite scenario is played out in today's reading from Corinthians. Paul is reading the riot act to the Church for boasting of their immorality. His opinion appears to be "Out with the bad, in with the good."

At 7:43 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Great comments.

I wonder what Paul would say to the divisions and conflicts we're going through. I would think he couldn't imagine a congregation separating itself from the Body of the Church. I also think his recognition of the reconciliation of traditional divisions ("in Christ there is no male/female, etc.") he would have extended to gay/straight, were he alive today. And I believe he would have seen the fruits of the spirit in the faithful relationships of Christian gay couples. So, my guess would be, he would adjure those who are angry over the inclusion of gay people in the life of the church in the same tradition and spirit that he adjured those who were scandalized by the inclusion of uncircumcised in the Church. I think he would have taken sides in favor of justice and inclusion.

And I think he would tells us conflicting Christians not to solve our problems in court.



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