I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law; a man’s worst enemies will be the members of his own family.
[Jesus’ 12 disciples are sent out on a mission trip with these instructions. For background see Days 83-84.]
Well, here we go again with another one of those seldom-quoted anti-family scriptures. We already had one on Day 89. Yes, here we go again.
I think Jesus is preparing the disciples for the idea that this isn’t going to be an easy mission trip. I can easily imagine one of his disciples wandering into town. He finds a family to stay with and after time passes he starts challenging them to consider Jesus’ unorthodox notions about Jewish law and the Kingdom of God. I can imagine some of the family members agreeing, others disagreeing. I can imagine accusations and judgments about other people’s behavior getting tossed back and forth. Pretty soon there is a lot of heated argument accompanied by arm-waving and yelling. Uh-oh. The disciple remembers the words of Jesus: “Listen! I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves. You must be cautious as snakes and gentle as doves” (See Day 87). So there goes the disciple, slinking out the back door, on his way to the next house in the next village, leaving a wake of unrest behind him. I think this is what Jesus is preparing them for, because that’s what families are like.
Family fighting – like none of us have ever seen it before. That’s one of those insights that you don’t have to be a prophet or a Son of God to come up with. It doesn’t take much to start families fighting. There are plenty of examples of Biblical family dysfunction:
- Cain gets jealous of his brother Abel and kills him.
- Abraham’s wife Sarah tells him to sleep with his servant Hagar so he could have a child, but then gets mad at both of them after Hagar bears the child.
- Jacob takes advantage of his brother Esau and then steals his father’s blessing.
- Judah promises his younger son to his daughter-in-law Tamar after his older son’s death, but doesn’t keep his promise. Tamar tricks Judah into sleeping with him by pretending to be a prostitute, and gets pregnant as a result.
- Joseph’s brothers are jealous of him and sell him into slavery.
- Despite being the child of Hebrew slaves, Moses is raised as Egyptian royalty. Later God chooses Moses to free all of the Egyptian slaves, much to the dismay of everyone in the royal household which had once been his home.
- Gideon’s son Abimelech killed 70 of his brothers so that he could be the sole king.
- Queen Athaliah killed all of her relatives after her son was killed. Her grandson, however, escaped and was hidden by his aunt for six years.
- King David’s son Absalom tries to kill his father and seize his kingdom.
It doesn’t take much to set them off. Let’s face it. Families compete, and families fight.
Statistics show that if someone is murdered it’s very likely that a family member or lover did it. According to the FBI, 42% of the women killed between 1976 and 2005 were killed by a family member or boyfriend. (Bureau of Justice Statistics, see http://dailykenn.com/522.pdf)
The prophet Micah says, “Don’t believe your neighbor or trust your friend. Be careful what you say even to your husband or wife. In these times sons treat their fathers like fools, daughters oppose their mothers, and young women quarrel with their mothers-in-law; your enemies are the members of your own family.” (Micah 7:5-6).
In all of my years in the church I’ve never known a family that seriously fought about religion to the extent that it damaged the family relationships. I think maybe it’s more of a problem in other areas of the world where there is more religious diversity. In Asia it’s not uncommon for Hindus and Muslims to disown family members who convert to Christianity. I remember a young woman at our church in Chicago who came to this country from Kenya. Her mother converted to Christianity, but her father believed in traditional African religion. Her parents were both doctors, so they were well-educated. The parents got along fine with their personal religions until the father developed a mysterious illness, and modern medicine didn’t provide him with any relief. He fell back on his religion and called in a “witch doctor” person, which upset his mother, who called in her priest. Day after day both of the “healers” would come, each with larger and larger entourages. She said the house was full of people on most days and that everyone was fighting – the father, mother, witch doctor, and priest. It was a horrible situation and the father eventually died in the midst of all the fighting.
Of course the reason Christian people (and families) fight doesn’t really have anything to do with their life circumstances. It has to do with the fact that they have, when measured against the words of Jesus, bad attitudes. Here are some of the teachings of Jesus which could help put an end to most arguments.
- Day 9 – Humility
- Day 13 – Peace
- Day 24 – No anger
- Day 25 – Settle your disputes
- Day 34 – Turn the other cheek
- Day 43 – Forgive others
- Days 54/55 – Don’t put yourself above others
- Day 59 – Follow the golden rule
These are just the ones that quickly come to mind. Another problem is the deception that “uniformity” is a prerequisite to “unity.” People have a misguided notion that any disagreement is a deal breaker. I really had a revelation about this after attending a lecture by Danny Silk, author of a book called A Culture of Honor. The concept is that we should give up on the notion that we are somehow obligated to make people agree with us or act like us. He says the problem starts when we affirm only those things in others that are a reflection of ourselves. He asserts that this is narcissism, plain and simple. Instead of relating to others only within the realm of our common ground, we need to honor and respect even those things we don’t like or accept. Even if we don’t like what a person does or says, we can honor them by showing respect. He argues that unity must be achieved at a higher level, based on the universal commonality we share as human beings on planet earth. We need to be ourselves, and allow others to be themselves. Live and let live.
This is especially hard to achieve within families where people seem to have a special sense of ownership over others. Everyone has their role to play and change is not always well received. The problem is that when people change and grow, the family dynamic often remains static. I think Jesus wants to be free to be their authentic selves, and families are resistant to change. Family roles can impede people’s spiritual and emotional growth. Exodus 20:12 says, “Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.” God says that you should honor your parents, but it doesn’t say that you should allow yourself to be enslaved by them. It doesn’t say that you aren’t allowed to grow up or change. It says that respecting and honoring your parents is one of the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s something we need to learn to do.
My final take on this – sometimes our families don’t bring out the best in us, and visitors don’t always bring out the best in our families. So, while we must certainly love our families, we need to be careful that we don’t try to control or manipulate each other. Otherwise when Jesus visits we’ll probably start fighting and he’ll have to make a hasty retreat.
What does this scripture say to you?