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Old 08-15-2001, 04:44 PM   #1
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Post Savage Attacks on Family Values

There are some notable instances in the New Testament and the Gospel of Thomas which show Jesus attacking the patriarchal structure of the sacrosanct first-century Mediterranean family. Many literalists have tried to interpret some of these sayings as attacks on family members who do not accept Jesus as the messiah, but careful analysis and seeing the verses in context shows something different.

Thomas, Saying 55, quotes Jesus as saying "Whoever does not hate his father and mother cannot be a follower of me, and whoever does not hate brothers and sisters and carry the cross as I do will not be worthy of me." A second admonition from Mark 3:31-35 can be provided here to show how both sayings can shed light on each other: "Then his mother and his brothers came: and standing outside they sent to him and called him (and Jesus answered) Who are my mother and brothers? And looking at those who sat around him he said, Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus radically negates the closed, given family group in favor of another group that will be open to all who want to join it. Any personal emeshments with one's own brothers and sisters tends to prevent the very realization that is foundational for the new wine of Jesus' Kingdom (or Rule) of God. Only by splitting apart the barriers of generational control which destroy true openess to God's creation can the Kingdom truly "come."

This would also go along with Matthew 23:9, when he is reported to have said "call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your father, which is in heaven." He has just finished a pungent lampooning of the vanity and worldliness of the scribes and Pharisee, and finishes his opposition to the patriarchal hierarchy by declaring "Neither be ye called masters."

So here we have father, rabbi and master--three of the top power positions of his cultural environment--all being declared offensive and silly. This is quite the "joke"--subverting the entire social order of his time in the name of the One Father!

Luke 11:27-28 seems to almost anticipate the later adoration of Mary when a woman speaks to Jesus from a crowd saying "How fortunate is the womb that bore you, and the breasts you suckled." And Jesus appears to have right back at her: "How fortunate rather are those who listen to God's teaching and preserve it." I can only imagine the groans of shock, surprise and dismay (and perhaps a few guffaws) from the surrounding crowd.

Here, Jesus is challenging the woman's chauvanism and pointing to a grouping beyond the human and conventional. He seems to speak to the idea that a woman's greatness does not emanate from producing a famous or brilliant godly son. This greatness Jesus sees is one not bound by time-honored secular conventions of familial and perhaps coerced "respect," but from a truth that goes beyond normal human constructions and boundaries.

Luke 12:51-53 also sets it down pretty graphically, and many believers have misunderstood these two verses to mean that Jesus' transformative message will cause some in the family to accept him and others in the same family to reject him. While this can be shown to be partly what Jesus' intentions may have been, another more radical interpretation better informs the meaning:

"Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

All well and good, but some scholars (John Crossan in particular) has picked up on the poetry embedded in this verse and how it seems to mesh with other ways Jesus has talked concerning the family and the Kingdom of God. Perhaps it is because Crossan has a good connection with our civilization's tradition of poetry and literature that have nothing to do with biblical scholarship. At any rate, Crossan (and others) have paid attention to where and how the line of seperation is drawn: It is clearly between the generations!.

In this verse Jesus is focusing more on the divisions caused by power than those caused by faith. Crossan points out that the family is society in miniature, the place where we learn how to love and abuse, be loved and be abused. Power of any kind, Jesus seems to be saying, can destroy human love and life.

Early in Luke we have the image of Jesus returning from the devilish isolation of the desert to go into his hometown to announce his transformation and praxis. "This day the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." And what happened? The familial and tribal ties that he grew up with turned against him. His audience accuses him of blasphemy and tries to kill him. No one more than Jesus realizes the painful limitations of the family and the tribe at that point.

Family life and values can be actively dangerous to the Kingdom of God.

Jesus' authentic ministry (not the one that forces "every knee to bend") was all about getting beyond worldly obedience (which is actually a crippling form of weakness) and connecting instead with God. If the Kingdom on earth was ever to be realized, then the family and tribal structure of his time had to be destroyed.

[ August 15, 2001: Message edited by: aikido7 ]
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