Saturday, June 9, 2012

Holy Family systems

This week I've been pondering the issue of family systems in light of our Gospel reading from the 3rd Chapter of Mark this Sunday. It's the story about how Jesus' family goes to his house to restrain him because the word is "he's out of his mind." (Mark 3:20-35)

Our image of the Holy Family is not that of dysfunction, is it? When someone says "the Holy Family," our mind leaps to images lifted from Christmas cards showing Mary and Joseph gazing down adoringly at their baby boy in the manger. (As an aside, I always thought Mary looked way too composed in these pictures! As one who logged 38 hours in the labor and delivery ward between two pregnancies, I can assure you no woman looks that good after giving birth. But I digress...)

We have trouble wrapping our heads around the idea that Jesus' family was much like our own - replete with joys, sorrows, and yes, even conflicts and relational dysfunctions. We get a small glimpse in Luke's gospel of the tension when Jesus stays behind in Jerusalem as a 'tween and his exasperated parents return to fetch him. And we get a glimpse of it here in Mark's gospel too.

As the eldest son (which Mark doesn't explicitly tell us, but Matthew and Luke do), Jesus has an expected role to fulfill. He is to learn the trade of his father and take over the work when his father dies or is too old to work. He is to provide for his parents in their advancing age ... a form of first century social security. He is to be the elder of the extended family to whom the family system looks for leadership and guidance. Oh yes, he has a job to do ... but he's not doing it and the family is none too happy about that! They think he's gone meschugge and needs a good talking to in order to straighten him out. They've come to the rescue ... or so they think.

The pull of the family system is strong. The family is the first place where we are told who we are, how we are to relate to the others in the system, and how we relate to the world. Some families affirm their children and want nothing more than for their progeny to be the best they can be. Other families ... well ... not so much. Much of what we believe to be true about ourselves comes from our families and, hopefully, they tell us the truth that we are beloved children of God. Sadly, some families don't know how to affirm and support each other and the distortion of shame and lies can destroy their members.

Jesus steps out of the expectations of his family system in this story. The family tries to pull him back - largely out of their desire for familial self-preservation. But preserving the self isn't what the gospel is about, is it? Transforming the self, both individually and collectively, is where the gospel leads us ... if we but dare to let it.


Cindy said...

He's a rebel, just like me. :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks! Helped me let go of some of my guilt in raising my dysfunctioional family. Maybe it was not as dysfunctional as it seemed but just a show of each family member's independent thinking outside the box! XO

Reverend Mom said...

Most families have degrees of functioning well and dysfunction. If we can live with the tensions of independent (self-differentiated) thinking, it leads to a greater degree of health for all the members. Cheers to you for letting go of guilt!

Woodie said...

Still lost; but, then, maybe should not be trying to fully/correctly assimilate this message being home from Rehoboth less than 2 hours . . .

Reverend Mom said...

I hear you Woodie. I just find myself looking at the places where we might be tempted to romanticize the life of Jesus. His family of origin often gets reduced to a caricature which isn't helpful. I can see hints in this story that Jesus' family just don't know what to do with him and he's not living up to the expectations of culture and his earthly family.

Gregory Nazianzus said, "What is not assumed is not healed." He was speaking in terms of Jesus assuming the totality of our humanity and its condition so that it all gets healed and redeemed through the cross. I think the complexities of our families, the good, bad and ugly, all get assumed in Jesus so that it all gets healed.