Whatever happened to family values?
Jesus is from artisan stock and his family setting is the world of small farmers and independent craftsmen. He isn’t one of the rich, but neither is he one of the poor. If he has embraced poverty, this has been his choice, voluntary suffering.
And though we now sit in a busy Jerusalem market, Jesus is still a country boy at heart. It’s well known that when preaching in Galilee, he didn’t visit the larger towns such as Sepphoris, Gabara or Tiberius. Jesus of Nazareth was both a son of his parents and the Galilean countryside.
SP: The temple incident, when you were twelve. I expect your mother has reminded you about it a few times. She’s certainly reminded everyone else! She tells the story with some pride though I suspect it wasn’t like that at the time.
JN: When I was twelve years old, we went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.
SP: Everyone had to go there for the three major festivals each year.
JN: Yes, and when were returning, I stayed behind here in Jerusalem.
SP: You were twelve and you stayed behind?
JN: My father and mother didn’t realise and imagining I was somewhere in the travelling party, travelled a day’s journey before asking for me among friends and relatives.
SP: Panic growing, I’d imagine.
JN: When they didn’t find me, they returned to Jerusalem, and after three days found me in the temple, sitting with the teachers, both listening to them and asking questions.
SP: I suspect you were always bright, Jesus, even then. And that’s why you give the Pharisees and scribes such a hard time today. You know what they know, but then you know more.
JN: When they saw me in the temple, my mother and father were astonished, and my mother said, ‘Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been worried out of our minds looking for you!’
SP: A natural reaction. So what did you say?
JN: Why have you been looking for me?
SP: That’s what you said?
JN: Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?
SP: A harsh response to your parents, teacher. But they took you home to Nazareth, with your mother wondering what kind of a son she had on her hands, and your father? Well, presumably he taught you carpentry and the building trade. You must have learned a lot from him.
JN: A son can do nothing on his own account, but only what he sees his father doing.
SP: Like father, like son.
JN: What the father does, the son copies.
SP: He was a good teacher?
JN: The father loves the son and shows him everything, all the secrets of his craft.
SP: And unsurprisingly, your stories are full of images taken from the building trade: the speck of sawdust in the eye; the dodgy builders skimping on foundations; oh, and the importance of drawing up a proper estimate before work begins!
JN: Well, would any one think of building a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost, to see whether he can afford to finish it?
SP: Only a fool.
JN: Because if he does, when he’s laid a foundation and then clearly can’t finish, everyone will to mock him. ‘This man began the job,’ they’ll say, ‘but wasn’t able to finish!’
SP: You do get builders like that, but staying with your family, you have four brothers, of course - James, Judas, Joseph and Simon, and several sisters. But – and this isn’t easy to say - things started to turn a little sour between you all. We all want happy families but that isn’t how it was for you. They didn’t understand you, perhaps? And if the truth be told, you began to separate yourself from them. Your brothers, for instance: they say you deceived them over the Feast of Shelters. They wanted you to go with them to Jerusalem but you refused.
JN: I said the right time for me has not yet come.
SP: You told them you were going to stay in Galilee.
JN: You go to the festival, I said, but I am not going.
SP: And yet you did go, teacher, you did go. After your brothers had left, you went to the festival in secret, which some might see as devious. And John also told me about the incident at the wedding in Cana.
JN: My mother was there, as was I with my followers. The wine runs out and my mother turns to me and says, ‘They have no wine left.’
SP: That’s unfortunate at a wedding. So what did you do?
JN: I said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you?’
SP: ‘What have I to do with you?’ She’s your mother and you say that? It’s like the temple story, only ruder still, for you’re no longer a precocious youth but an adult. Had you perhaps reached a new stage in your life, when you said goodbye to conventional human ties. John is clear about your brothers’ lack of support. In fact, word is that people were saying ‘He’s gone mad’ and that your family set out to take charge of you.
JN: It’s true that while I was speaking to a crowd of people, one of those there told me that my mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak with me.
SP: So presumably you went to see them?
JN: No. I said to him, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’
SP: That’s a shocking question for a good Jewish boy to ask.
JN: I pointed towards my followers, and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’
SP: You said that?
JN: Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.
SP: So you’re redefining family values; quite a challenge. The family is an important social structure, but you’re saying there’s something more important. From here on, blood loyalty and clan are secondary to commitment to the kingdom of God?
JN: So listen –
SP: - I’m all ears.
JN: When you arrange a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours.
SP: Why not?
JN: Because they might return the favour and pay you back.
SP: But that’s the idea, isn’t it?
JN: No, when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame or the blind; and you will be blessed because they don’t have the resources to repay you.
SP: You don’t make it easy, do you? The thing is, friends and family are a security for us; but you’re saying that we must love without boundaries.
JN: And believe me when I say that whoever cannot free themselves from their father and their mother cannot be my follower.
JN: And whoever cannot free themselves from their brother and their sister and does not bear their cross as I do – well, they shall not be worthy of me either.
SP: You’re swimming against the tide, teacher, but I think I see what you’re saying. Our families take us back to our old conditioning, to the judgements and customs which formed us and therefore away from our original selves.
JN: One of my followers said, ‘I will follow – but allow me first to bury my father.’
SP: Fair enough.
JN: I said, follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead.
SP: And the 5th commandment - the one that enjoins us to respect our father and mother?
JN: When a blind person leads another blind person, they both fall into a pit.
SP: We must acquire lives of our own?
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published September 13th 2010
Size: 216 x 140 mm