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Reform Magazine | December 13, 2017

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Editorial: Jesus versus the family

steve_tomkinsThere are some things Jesus said that I just don’t like. I’ve come to realise this quite recently and quite reluctantly, but it’s true. They include pretty much everything he has to say about family.

When his mother and brothers turn up to try to take him home, he says: “Who are my mother and brothers? These” – the audience around him – “are my mother and brothers”. When a man wants to bury his father before leaving to follow Jesus, he says: “Let the dead bury their own dead.” He says that to be a disciple you have to hate your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters and your own life. And the Gospel of John is the only record from the ancient world of a man calling his mother “woman”. Some great material there for Mothers’ Day.

Jesus seems to have been relentlessly anti-family. He seems to have had no time at all for the idea that whatever else you do, your dependents are your greatest priority, or that we inevitably care most about those closest to us.

As a son, and even more as a parent, I don’t like that. Admittedly, I get a certain pleasure from thinking how badly Jesus would get on with those people who reckon Christianity is all about family values, but that pleasure is undermined somewhat by the question of how well he would get on with me. I like to think I have basically understood and accepted what he had to say and would slot in with his followers – but the Gospels are full of people who thought that and went away sad. One thing Jesus’ enemies and friends had in common is that he constantly challenged what they thought they knew, about him and about everything.

What do I do about this? I could just say: “I disagree with Jesus on this.” I don’t think I would be damned for all eternity – but I have found Jesus’ extraordinary moral message absolutely transformative, and it would be a shame to miss out. I could go for the trusty: “Ah but, you see, what that passage really means…” but I fear that would do violence to the text, make Jesus say what I want to hear, and be another way of not listening. I could try to force myself to believe something I don’t believe, but I fear that would do violence to my own mind.

What I’m trying to do is stay with those hard sayings and listen to them. Question them, yes, like Jesus’ disciples questioned him. But to hear what he has to say. The real Jesus is not necessarily who I hope for or want or imagine him to be. But I believe the more I listen to him – to the messages I love and the ones I don’t – the more I will come to know Jesus for real.

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This article was published in the March 2016 edition of  Reform.

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