Dysfunctional Biblical Family Values
Have you ever noticed how the Bible portrays family life? Abraham almost “sacrifices” his son in some kind of religious delusion. We hear about the tormenting and desperate escape of a pregnant surrogate mother, soon followed by her expulsion to the desert. Then there are several examples when mothers of faith are being “pimped” by their husbands for political and material profits. Or consider Rebecca’s misleading her elderly and blind husband to push forward her favorite son. There are siblings conspiring to murder their brother and settling on a “humane” solution of only selling him into slavery. We see a long history and well-established practice of dangerous intermarriages with close blood relatives. Remember the notorious love life of alpha-male David and the incest between David’s children? Or the Oedipean behavior of Absalom, or Solomon’s diplomatic harem, or his “the Arabian Night” affair with the Queen of Sheba? Oh, did I mention prophet Hosea with his strange style of preaching through his family life and names of his kids?
It does not stop with what we call the Old Testament. We can continue with not unsubstantiated rumours about Jesus’s own parentage, or the attempts of Jesus’ family to have him declared insane and his reaction in disowning them and replacing them with a commune of his own making. We know about Jesus’s own blatant disrespect for the responsibilities of a son towards a dying father. Then there is Paul almost amusing family, and sexual advice hardly derived from any real family experience, tragically taken by some as a center of his religious genius and the holy writ itself. And all this menagerie of pathologies and dysfunctionality is just a short and brief list which I created almost in an instant and of the top of my head!
How is it possible? First, I think it is naked biblical truth-telling. Even the greatest and most celebrated heroes (to some extent even Jesus himself) are portrayed with honest realism. Second, it is the logic of storytelling and the means for stories to survive; only unique and somehow “ticklish” stories can make it down through the ages and generations. There is also a pedagogic reason - it is better and safer to learn from the mistakes of others. Finally there is a whole bunch of psychological, religious and theological reasons. As we observe models of behavior, and archetypes in action, our sense of morality is broadened; as we observe human merits (rather demerits) and divine grace in action, with Luther we can exclaim - “Sola Gratia” - By Grace Alone!
This Sunday we will hear a unique intertwined, two-gospel parable about God’s own dysfunctional family (Matthew 21: 28-31 and Luke 15:11-32). Thus it is about us, about our families, about our society, but primarily about God and about the divine medicine of love and grace.