Jesus vs. Family

The New Testament reading at church last Sunday was Matthew 10:34- 39.  Pastor Douthwaite pointed out that if the reading had come one week earlier, we would be hearing it on Father’s Day :

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

First of all, I’m curious how you would apply this text.  We tend to associate Christianity with “family values.”  And yet, according to this passage, they are not always going to be the same.   Clearly, when one member of the family becomes a Christian and the others belong to some other religion or no religion, this passage applies.  But how else?  Are we are sometimes tempted to idolize our families?  Can we turn our family into a little cults?

Our pastor handled the text in a very helpful way, as is his wont, observing that of course God honors the family, an institution that He Himself established, protecting it in three of the Ten Commandments.  And yet, Jesus does bring a sword.  Read what he says in the sermon linked below.   I loved his conclusion, in which he develops the point that “water is thicker than blood”:

By virtue of your baptism into Christ, there’s a new family to which you belong. A new family that transcends the bounds of time and space. A new family that will not last just for a time, but for eternity.

So even though the world will tell you that blood is thicker than water – that our earthly family relationships create a kind of bond that should not be broken by the things of this world that, by comparison, are like water . . . but Jesus is teaching us that the truth is exactly the opposite. For in our new family, our new life, water is thicker than blood. The water and Word of Holy Baptism creates a bond that is greater than any other on earth – not just a bond that we have with each other, but the bond that we have with each other by virtue of our being united in Christ. It is Christ that holds us together, Christ who gives us hope, Christ who by His blood gave power to this water, Christ who makes us all brothers and sisters and children of our heavenly Father, in Him.

And so in Christ we have a family and life that we cannot lose. Not because we’re so great, or because there won’t be any strife and disagreements in the church – there will be! We’re still sinners. But because we are united in the One who is greater than our sin, who gave His life to give us life. And so it is exactly in losing your life in baptism, losing your life in repentance, losing your life in service, losing your life in Christ – you find a life that is even greater. A life that will have no end.

All of which is not to say our earthly families are not important – they are! But since we’ve just had two marriages here this past month, perhaps something that is said at many marriages can help us understand. For it is said that when two people get married, we’re not losing a son, we’re gaining a daughter.

Well by faith, that is what happens here. In Christ, we’re not losing our earthly families, but gaining a new family. And so we have not just an earthly Father, but now a heavenly Father and also many earthly fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters, and children and grandchildren! Time may take away our earthly families, space may separate us, and the Word of God may divide – but look at how richly God has rewarded those who abide in the truth of His Word! With a family that does not compete against Him for love and loyalty, but which is created by those very things. With a family that does not depend on us to keep it together, but one which He keeps together. For that which God brings together, He will keep together. Together in Him. United through Baptism, bound together by the Word, strengthened in forgiveness, and fed by the body and blood of the very Son of God! The Son of God in whom we are all sons of God. . . .

That’s why we put this baptismal font front and center in the church. For it is the font and front and center of our lives. We put it here so that you can’t look at the altar or the cross without looking also at it. So that if you walk up to this altar, you must go by it. So that it remind you that this is why you’re here; that water is thicker than blood. That no matter what happens in this world, no matter the divisions and struggles, no matter the sin and death – nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He has claimed you as His own, and you are His. Born again into His family. Or as St. John would later proclaim: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 2 Sermon.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • larry

    Our pastor applied this same passage this way (my paraphrase) this past Sunday:

    He linked it to bearing of one’s cross and gave the overt examples of a Muslim convert he knew whose family rejected him upon his baptism. That one is fairly obvious. But then he went on to link it to the times when our families reject us maybe not so fiercely as they do in such countries but subtly. He likened it too having a relationship with someone, but then this new relationship comes about and a jealously develops regarding the old relationship from the other in which he/she at length despises the new relationship and tries, at length to destroy it, by verbal or physical means. That is my poor attempt to summarize the sermon.

    He gave examples of standing firm on confessional grounds and others. Another he gave is when one has family or friends down for the weekend and is informing the pastor and at first the pastor’s reaction is, “Oh good visitors” but then the reply is, “Oh no, we won’t be a church this Sunday, they don’t go to church and we don’t want to make any waves”. In that instant one should “make waves” and love Christ more than family, even if family silently looks down upon that. Often the bitter jealously, as we all know, that becomes a dividing point between Christ and our family/friends, in this country/day and age is a more or less brooding silence that all can sense with “snippets” of comments and jokes here, there and yonder.

    Often this can happen when one just becomes a Christian even with alleged “Christian family and friends”.

    An example we can give as can any ex-baptist who has baptist roots has heard/felt the subtle mockery that comes with moving over to having one’s infants and children baptized, those that move to Lutheran OR Reformed have experienced this mockery. It often comes in mocking jokes that have more fierceness behind them than meets the eye, kind of like Ishmael laughing and Isaac for believing the promise, Paul calls this persecution (and Calvin of all people does a wonderful job commenting on that very verse in Galatians regarding this issue). When we first went to PCA two of our former pastors one upon a regular visit and one upon a visit to one of our family churches, my last to a Baptist church, told the same hidden mocking joke (there’s always truth and reality behind a joke that is more pungent than the disarming joke is), “have you had your children baptized”, then, the joke, “you what the difference between a Baptist and Presbyterian is, Baptist are not afraid of water”. This is the mockery of Ishmael for as one has put one’s soul reliance thus on Christ, and Calvin points this out, this is more painful than if the entire world were to go up in one single conflagration. Further, Calvin points out well, that this mockery struck more harshly at the soul of Christ more than the physical crucifixion itself when they mocked Him saying, “He says He is the Son of God but He cannot save Himself”. I.e. where is this God you say that is for you.

    When we moved to Lutheran we had a similar subtle experience with some family (our former PCA church didn’t though) regarding, again the sacraments, this time the Lord’s Supper and the worship service. However, we’d already bridged the infant baptism thing. Although we did have some positives too.

    The “ahha!” of the sermon was the connection of making the analogous point of the old relationship becoming jealous of the new relationship and how the old persecutes in various ways this new relationship in order to draw one back from the new relationship. That really made that passage click for me.

  • larry

    Our pastor applied this same passage this way (my paraphrase) this past Sunday:

    He linked it to bearing of one’s cross and gave the overt examples of a Muslim convert he knew whose family rejected him upon his baptism. That one is fairly obvious. But then he went on to link it to the times when our families reject us maybe not so fiercely as they do in such countries but subtly. He likened it too having a relationship with someone, but then this new relationship comes about and a jealously develops regarding the old relationship from the other in which he/she at length despises the new relationship and tries, at length to destroy it, by verbal or physical means. That is my poor attempt to summarize the sermon.

    He gave examples of standing firm on confessional grounds and others. Another he gave is when one has family or friends down for the weekend and is informing the pastor and at first the pastor’s reaction is, “Oh good visitors” but then the reply is, “Oh no, we won’t be a church this Sunday, they don’t go to church and we don’t want to make any waves”. In that instant one should “make waves” and love Christ more than family, even if family silently looks down upon that. Often the bitter jealously, as we all know, that becomes a dividing point between Christ and our family/friends, in this country/day and age is a more or less brooding silence that all can sense with “snippets” of comments and jokes here, there and yonder.

    Often this can happen when one just becomes a Christian even with alleged “Christian family and friends”.

    An example we can give as can any ex-baptist who has baptist roots has heard/felt the subtle mockery that comes with moving over to having one’s infants and children baptized, those that move to Lutheran OR Reformed have experienced this mockery. It often comes in mocking jokes that have more fierceness behind them than meets the eye, kind of like Ishmael laughing and Isaac for believing the promise, Paul calls this persecution (and Calvin of all people does a wonderful job commenting on that very verse in Galatians regarding this issue). When we first went to PCA two of our former pastors one upon a regular visit and one upon a visit to one of our family churches, my last to a Baptist church, told the same hidden mocking joke (there’s always truth and reality behind a joke that is more pungent than the disarming joke is), “have you had your children baptized”, then, the joke, “you what the difference between a Baptist and Presbyterian is, Baptist are not afraid of water”. This is the mockery of Ishmael for as one has put one’s soul reliance thus on Christ, and Calvin points this out, this is more painful than if the entire world were to go up in one single conflagration. Further, Calvin points out well, that this mockery struck more harshly at the soul of Christ more than the physical crucifixion itself when they mocked Him saying, “He says He is the Son of God but He cannot save Himself”. I.e. where is this God you say that is for you.

    When we moved to Lutheran we had a similar subtle experience with some family (our former PCA church didn’t though) regarding, again the sacraments, this time the Lord’s Supper and the worship service. However, we’d already bridged the infant baptism thing. Although we did have some positives too.

    The “ahha!” of the sermon was the connection of making the analogous point of the old relationship becoming jealous of the new relationship and how the old persecutes in various ways this new relationship in order to draw one back from the new relationship. That really made that passage click for me.

  • Jack K

    Our pastor preached about Christian families bearing their crosses together.

  • Jack K

    Our pastor preached about Christian families bearing their crosses together.

  • Dan Kempin

    Here is what I did with the text: (Sorry that there is no text–just audio.)

    http://www.sjlmidland.org/listen-online

    The new insight for me was noticing that Jesus did not begin by saying of himself, “I have not come to bring peace,” but by saying to the disciples, “Do to THINK (or even “stop thinking”) I have come to bring peace.” That insight led into the development of this sermon. It was a tough text, though. I struggled with it through much of the week.

    And I love pastor Douthwaite’s turn of phrase that “water is thicker than blood.” (If you read this, pastor, that is wonderful craftsmanship, and I suspect that I will “rip it off”–giving you credit for as long as I recall that I first heard it from you.) :)

  • Dan Kempin

    Here is what I did with the text: (Sorry that there is no text–just audio.)

    http://www.sjlmidland.org/listen-online

    The new insight for me was noticing that Jesus did not begin by saying of himself, “I have not come to bring peace,” but by saying to the disciples, “Do to THINK (or even “stop thinking”) I have come to bring peace.” That insight led into the development of this sermon. It was a tough text, though. I struggled with it through much of the week.

    And I love pastor Douthwaite’s turn of phrase that “water is thicker than blood.” (If you read this, pastor, that is wonderful craftsmanship, and I suspect that I will “rip it off”–giving you credit for as long as I recall that I first heard it from you.) :)

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    So, I’m enjoying the one year lectionary this year, and probably for some years to come. But I tell you, the reality of this text is known in Utah. Oddly enough, most mormon families are happier and more accepting of their kids for going atheist, buddhist, gay pride, wiccan or just simply nothing than for being baptized in any Christian denomination.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    So, I’m enjoying the one year lectionary this year, and probably for some years to come. But I tell you, the reality of this text is known in Utah. Oddly enough, most mormon families are happier and more accepting of their kids for going atheist, buddhist, gay pride, wiccan or just simply nothing than for being baptized in any Christian denomination.

  • Helen F

    If anyone would like to hear a very enlightening discussion of this text by two LCMS pastors, scroll down to Thurs., June 23. I promise you will not be wasting your time, which is about 50 min.

    http://issuesetc.org/archive/

  • Helen F

    If anyone would like to hear a very enlightening discussion of this text by two LCMS pastors, scroll down to Thurs., June 23. I promise you will not be wasting your time, which is about 50 min.

    http://issuesetc.org/archive/

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Our pastor, not naming any names ;-), miss read his lectionary calendar and instead of doing the readings appointed for last Sunday did the readings for July 24th. Just a little spoiler, the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are not the Gospel.

  • http://lutherama.blogspot.com Dr. Luther in 21st Century

    Our pastor, not naming any names ;-), miss read his lectionary calendar and instead of doing the readings appointed for last Sunday did the readings for July 24th. Just a little spoiler, the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price are not the Gospel.

  • Jeremy

    The “family values” version of Jesus taught appears to be very different than the historical Jesus or even the biblical Jesus.

  • Jeremy

    The “family values” version of Jesus taught appears to be very different than the historical Jesus or even the biblical Jesus.

  • Pete

    Dr. Luther/21st Century @6 is where I see this passage going. The idea that, as marvelous as our familial relationships are (the limitless love of mothers for their children, sexual intimacy of husbands and wives, heartfelt concern of children for elderly parents, sibling affection, etc.) they pale in comparison with our familial relationship as “the bride of Christ” and in ways that we have no way of comprehending this side of the grave. To the extent that our love of our earthly families will (or does) ultimately register more as hatred than love when contrasted to our being “in Christ”. It’s another way of expressing of the oft-stated truism that the Gospel is sweeter than we can imagine.

  • Pete

    Dr. Luther/21st Century @6 is where I see this passage going. The idea that, as marvelous as our familial relationships are (the limitless love of mothers for their children, sexual intimacy of husbands and wives, heartfelt concern of children for elderly parents, sibling affection, etc.) they pale in comparison with our familial relationship as “the bride of Christ” and in ways that we have no way of comprehending this side of the grave. To the extent that our love of our earthly families will (or does) ultimately register more as hatred than love when contrasted to our being “in Christ”. It’s another way of expressing of the oft-stated truism that the Gospel is sweeter than we can imagine.

  • John C

    I find the passage troubling. Cult leaders from Chairman Mao to Jim Jones have said pretty much the same thing and it has justified all manner of horror.
    Jesus has been misquoted.

  • John C

    I find the passage troubling. Cult leaders from Chairman Mao to Jim Jones have said pretty much the same thing and it has justified all manner of horror.
    Jesus has been misquoted.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    John C, that cultists misquote it should not be unsettling. This is a satying that has to be taken in the fuller context of what Jesus says about family too. And is spoken by a man who had to turn his own back on his family for us, sayimg whoever believes me is my mother and my brothers. But that was when his family was asking in effect, us or them. Jesus chose us over his family, and his family finally came around. Often I see believers unwilling to go with christ for the sake of family, this never ends well.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com bror erickson

    John C, that cultists misquote it should not be unsettling. This is a satying that has to be taken in the fuller context of what Jesus says about family too. And is spoken by a man who had to turn his own back on his family for us, sayimg whoever believes me is my mother and my brothers. But that was when his family was asking in effect, us or them. Jesus chose us over his family, and his family finally came around. Often I see believers unwilling to go with christ for the sake of family, this never ends well.

  • Louis

    John C, any quote can be misused. That said, I know a fair amount of Christians who lost their families, who had to say – “I cannot go your way anymore”, for the sake of their Faith. Some families where caught in fundamentalist cults. Others where caught in all sorts of other things.

    When I left the fundy cult I grew up in, I had to prepare for this, and it came mighty close.

    The real world is a hard place.

  • Louis

    John C, any quote can be misused. That said, I know a fair amount of Christians who lost their families, who had to say – “I cannot go your way anymore”, for the sake of their Faith. Some families where caught in fundamentalist cults. Others where caught in all sorts of other things.

    When I left the fundy cult I grew up in, I had to prepare for this, and it came mighty close.

    The real world is a hard place.

  • Craig

    For the best sermon on the passage:

    http://www.faithcapo.com/connect/sermons.html
    I Wish He Hadn’t Said That
    Saturday, 25 June 2011

  • Craig

    For the best sermon on the passage:

    http://www.faithcapo.com/connect/sermons.html
    I Wish He Hadn’t Said That
    Saturday, 25 June 2011

  • fws

    jesus sayings are full of two kingdoms talk. which is talk that is romans 8 flesh vs body,

    what this all is about is that everything we can see and do on earth in our bodies is flesh that will perish with the earth. this includes the best and most noble things we have on earth. Families. Mom. Righteousness. Along with those who trust in these things for eternal life.

    And this could lead to Gnosticism. That idea that flesh=material=bad and so the path to God-li-ness is to the opposite error that spirit=nonmaterial=good.

    false choice. Whatever is not of faith is sin. The opposite of sin is not goodness. it is alone faith in Christ. This faith, that is not our work , is alone the restoration of Adamic Original Righteousness and Gods Image.

    And the body? 1 cor 6… the body is completely and absolutely dead and will perish. And at the same time…. it is fully joined to Christ. So again, the solution is alone, faith in Christ. To believe the fact at the end of 1 cor 6 against ALL apparent evidence.

    It is not to “think right” or to get our presuppositions in order. There is no fixing old adam. not even in the form of family and mom and apple pie. These things will all perish. along with all who look to them for Life.

    The just shall Live by faith alone.

  • fws

    jesus sayings are full of two kingdoms talk. which is talk that is romans 8 flesh vs body,

    what this all is about is that everything we can see and do on earth in our bodies is flesh that will perish with the earth. this includes the best and most noble things we have on earth. Families. Mom. Righteousness. Along with those who trust in these things for eternal life.

    And this could lead to Gnosticism. That idea that flesh=material=bad and so the path to God-li-ness is to the opposite error that spirit=nonmaterial=good.

    false choice. Whatever is not of faith is sin. The opposite of sin is not goodness. it is alone faith in Christ. This faith, that is not our work , is alone the restoration of Adamic Original Righteousness and Gods Image.

    And the body? 1 cor 6… the body is completely and absolutely dead and will perish. And at the same time…. it is fully joined to Christ. So again, the solution is alone, faith in Christ. To believe the fact at the end of 1 cor 6 against ALL apparent evidence.

    It is not to “think right” or to get our presuppositions in order. There is no fixing old adam. not even in the form of family and mom and apple pie. These things will all perish. along with all who look to them for Life.

    The just shall Live by faith alone.

  • fws

    Jesus is merely telling us that all we can see and do on earth is flesh that will perish. even the very best and most truly noble things.

    this is only something that the New Man in Baptism can receive, and still can see goodness and mercy happening in , with and under all those things.

    this is the thread that runs through all the parables and sayings of Jesus. there is the earthly kingdom that is all we can see and do. then there is that other kingdom that is alone in the very person of Christ and faith alone in him alone.

    this understanding makes what jesus says come alive.

  • fws

    Jesus is merely telling us that all we can see and do on earth is flesh that will perish. even the very best and most truly noble things.

    this is only something that the New Man in Baptism can receive, and still can see goodness and mercy happening in , with and under all those things.

    this is the thread that runs through all the parables and sayings of Jesus. there is the earthly kingdom that is all we can see and do. then there is that other kingdom that is alone in the very person of Christ and faith alone in him alone.

    this understanding makes what jesus says come alive.


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