Reading Ramblings – September 7

This is nearly a week overdue – but better late than never?

Date:  Narrative Preaching #10—David & Absalom: September 7, 2014

Texts: 2 Samuel 18:1, 5, 9-10, 14-15, 21, 31-33; Psalm 127; Mark 3:20-21, 31-35

Context: Another lesson on David, this time accentuating some of his more, shall we say, dysfunctional family dynamics.  David reigned roughly around 1000 BC.  While he is celebrated for his prowess in battle, his family life leaves much to be desired. 


1 Samuel 18:1, 5, 9-10, 14-15, 21, 31-33 — Perhaps less well remembered than David’s tryst with Bathsheba and his ensuing murder and cover up, is the difficulty David had with his son Absalom.  Difficulty being a mild understatement.  David ruled as king for 40 years, which was apparently too long for Absalom’s tastes, since he attempted a coup that would involve killing his own father.  However Absalom’s treachery backfired, and despite David’s efforts to protect him, David’s own officers knew that Absalom had to be killed. 

If we think that dysfunctional family dynamics are a new thing, we are mistaken.  Despite pop Christianity’s emphasis on family perfectness, many families are far less than perfect, and church becomes a dangerous place where they are forced to pretend perfection, rather than receiving forgiveness and healing for the darkness inside.  So long as sin remains in us (which will be the case until our death!), families will be attacked now just by the powerful forces of media and culture, but from within by individual sinfulness.  How beautiful is the promise of grace and forgiveness in Christ when we must deal with the painfulness of family dysfunction!


Psalm 127  — This short psalm reminds us of something we easily forget—children are a gift from God.  They are not our right, not our entitlement.  We may want them or wish we didn’t have them but they remain first and foremost a gift from God. 

Seen in this light we remember how little control we have over other people, something that is harder for parents to admit about their children.  We are not in control as parents.  We guide and set examples and seek to do right by them, but they remain autonomous, and sometimes despite our best efforts and prayers, they wander from the lives we would have directed them towards.  While Christ must be the center of the Christian family, we must remember constantly to leave our children (and spouses!) ultimately in His hands as we seek to be faithful with our own, always acknowledging both our responsibility and our limitation. 


Mark 3:20-21, 31-35 — Challenging family dynamics are certainly not unknown to our Lord, either.  Jesus’ family make their way to him, convinced that his sudden foray into preaching and miracle-working is a matter of being crazy.  If only they can convince him to come home with them, perhaps he’ll start feeling better and go back to carpentry.

In this section, Jesus’ family is contrasted with another group of people coming to Jesus to try and make sense of who he is and what he’s doing.  But this group is convinced not that he is crazy, but rather that he is demon-possessed, acting on behalf of Satan himself.  How else can Jesus’ ability to heal and cast out demons be explained? 

Two different groups of people, two different conclusions about what is going on with Jesus.  The scribes and Pharisees will be warned about the dangers of conflating good and evil—of calling evil good and good evil.  They will be warned of the danger of setting themselves outside the Kingdom of God by insisting that the Holy Spirit’s work is actually the work of Satan.  When good and evil are thus conflated, the perpetrator sets themselves beyond the grace and forgiveness of God the Father that God the Son Jesus of Nazareth has come to make way for.  This places the perpetrator in a position of non-forgiveness, since they can no longer truly see the error of their way and the need for forgiveness.

Jesus’ response to his family’s interpretation of his issues seems to be to acknowledge head on the reality that many people subscribe to—sometimes those closest to us understand us the least.  So convinced of who Jesus is and how he should be conducting himself, his family can’t see the truth.  This may surprise us, since Mary above all people ought to recognize the extraordinary nature of Jesus.  But not even the mother of God is exempt from the dangerous nearsightedness that can drive family members to completely misread or ignore who and what a family member does and says, in favor of their perceptions of how they ought to be.

Jesus’ words may sound harsh, but he is not denying his relationship to Mary and his other family.  His care for his mother in his final moments (John 19) is testimony to his deep love for her.  Rather, Jesus teaches that what family can and should be in it’s finest moments – the place where we are known best and truly—does not always function this way.  What Jesus’ own family is unable to understand at this point, others gathered around Jesus have better understood.  Jesus’ family comes to dictate terms; his followers come to hear him teach, not to lecture him.  When Peter switches roles a few chapters later, admonishing Jesus about the foolishness of all this betrayal-death-resurrection talk (Mark 8:27-38), Jesus quickly puts Peter in his place. 

God intended the family as a place where we first learn to know and love others, and others first learn to know and love us.  Sometimes families are able to fulfill that role fairly consistently.  Other times, that role is ignored or turned on it’s head.  We find in Christ not merely forgiveness, but an extended family of all those in faith in him.  Whether our family experience is positive or negative, we know that in Christ it is transformed as we become the younger siblings of the Son of God himself, entering into a family created by him and consisting of all those who place their faith and trust in him.  We can better seek to understand and forgive family for moments of failure as we look forward to being perfectly known and loved in the larger family of Christ.  And we can truly give thanks for good family experiences as a foretaste of our larger and eternal family life to come. 






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