Friday, May 21, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Tension in The Holy Family

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

A few months ago, someone called me to ask if I would make a presentation for Bard College’s Lifelong Learning Center, a sort of continuing education club. This was to be the last in a series of presentations about Families in the Bible. Christian and Jewish clergy from the area were asked to make one presentation each.

At first, I asked if I could do a class on Abraham and Isaac because I wrote about that during a sabbatical several years ago. Then I looked at the list of presenters.

One was doing the Sacrifice of Isaac. Another was doing Ishmael and Isaac. Another was doing Isaac’s sons. A fourth was doing Isaac’s grandsons.

The coordinator suggested something from the New Testament. So, I got: Tension in the Holy Family. Now, being the Holy Family, you might think that there could be NO TENSION. Everyone got along because they were, well, holy.

But come on. This is a family that nearly had a divorce before they even got married! They had to run for their lives just a few months later (well, in Matthew’s Gospel). Think that doesn’t produce tension?

And look at the story in Luke where 12-year-old Jesus disappears for three or four days in the big city. What’s Mom say when she finds him? Does she say, “Thank goodness you’re okay!” No, she says, “Child, why have you treated us like this?”

I’m not saying anything about how Jesus responded, because he is the Son of God, but if I had answered my mother the way he did to Mary, I would have been grounded for “the duration.”

More seriously, when Jesus is an adult, we see some serious tensions between him and his family. Look at the scene where Jesus is teaching to huge crowds, making some people nervous. In the Gospel of Mark’s version, it says:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.”… A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then looking at those seated around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Kind of a long quote, but this scene pops up in three different gospels, so you know it’s on their minds. They are not hiding the fact that Jesus and his family had issues.

An even more stark split is in John’s gospel, when the family is about to go down to Jerusalem for a feast, and Jesus’ brothers taunt him:

So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” (For not even his brothers believed in him.).

We could get into the long discussion of whether or not these are biological brothers, but for my purposes, the point is moot. They’re family. And in Jesus’ family, there was tension over his activities as messiah.

Now, is that any surprise, really? He’s rocking the religious world. Religious and civil authorities are expressing discomfort with him. He’s bringing huge crowds to his hometown and clearly making the neighbors uncomfortable. And there shouldn’t be tension?

What would have been unbelievable is that Jesus got all the way to Calvary without upsetting his family.

But tension isn’t bad. As much as we try to avoid it, tension is a sign of growth, of human interaction. When people are involved in a story worth telling, it’s the tension that makes the story good. Tension is necessary for change.

The real question is, how do we greet that tension? Because that will go a long way to determining whether the change is for the better or for the worse.

Was there tension in the Holy Family? You bet. And thank goodness.