Originally published in October 1996
Jesus had all kinds of problems with families. In the first place, he had a problem with his own family. As the only child of a widowed mother he had the sole responsibility for her well-being as she entered into her later years. The tragedy of his own untimely death was only heightened by his concern for his beloved mother's unsettled situation.
If you think that yours is the only family where brothers and sisters love to fight with each other, then remember the questions put to Jesus: "How often should I forgive my brother", and Jesus' response: "Seventy times seven." Family feuds were not invented in the twentieth century. They were very much a part of the problems which Jesus faced.
Jesus had many problems with families which were too tightly knit together. Over and over again, he called individuals to follow him, only to have them excuse themselves for fear of offending a mother or father. His frightening words, "unless you hate mother and father, you cannot be my disciple", describe the frustrations he felt as he tried to draw followers away from overly strong family ties and devote themselves to the work of God.
Jesus had problems with families that were not close together. Mosaic law allowed for a relatively easy divorce procedure which was often invoked by the men and women of his day. Jesus, who taught the sanctity and permanent nature of marriage, was not about to let such practices go unchallenged. He condemned divorce and called people to live together in permanent union which truly "God had joined together."
Finally, at the wedding feast of Cana, Jesus involved himself in the day-to-day financial problems of a young couple. Just getting their marriage underway, they had obviously underestimated the costs of this new relationship and only Jesus, with the encouragement of his mother, was able to save them the embarrassment of being miserly hosts.
Too often, we of the twentieth century, think that we have invented all of the world's great problems. We would like to think that family life was perfect up until about the end of the Second World War and then something went wrong. If we read the gospels carefully, we realize that Christ had to confront many of the problems which we face today.
By using Christ as an example and by taking consolation in the knowledge that he understands the difficulties which we are facing in our family life, we can face our problems with both faith and courage and resolve them appropriately.
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