Sunday, March 08, 2009

Matthew 10:34-38 and Households Left Behind

This morning's adult education took place on time with all of us remembering to put our clocks forward one hour. The topic under discussion was households and families in the time of Jesus. It included consideration of the vexing passage:

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

We note the composition of the household to be what we would call an extended family today. We observe that the household conflict is not between husband and wife or son and daughter. I invite/coerce five people to be the household in which inter generational conflict exists. They adopt various kinds of confrontational postures towards each other. I then imagine the occasion of the conflict to be the younger generation leaving the household to follow Jesus. Another person takes the role of Jesus passing by the household, inducing the younger generation to follow, thus leaving the household behind. "Good riddance!" says the "father of the household." "You'll be back, I know!" says the "mother of the household." Discipleship from the point of view of households left behind looks rather different.

This morning, after everyone had resumed their seats, someone observed that this little episode of the household was probably typical of other episodes in the gospels where Jesus summons disciples. It describes, she said, the call of the two sets of brothers who were fisherfolk:

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).

When someone independently applies an interpretative paradigm to other passages and says so out loud, I jump for joy. Then someone else proposed that Simon Peter's mother-in-law was healed and restored to a household (Mark 1:30-31) rather than the household being torn apart. We discussed interpretative possibilities of this passage including the translation "he (Jesus) served them." We imagined households like that of Joanna and Chuza, Herod's steward (Luke 8:3) in which women leave to follow Jesus with or without the husband's consent.

Towards the end of the discussion, someone says that he infers from what we have investigated so far that the picture of households and "family values" around Jesus is more complicated and nuanced than we had hitherto thought. Right, I said. Disciples that follow Jesus can be both biological brothers and "brethren" within a community of siblings. And I thanked everyone for their contributions. Our discussion resumes next week.

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