Christian love & family divisions

Our Lady Of The Flight Into Egypt
Cycle C February 2019
Colossians 3:12-21;
Matthew: 2:13-15; 19-23.
Rev Tony van Vuuren

One of the noticeable things about the opening chapters of the gospels is that Mary and Joseph say so little. Neither of them spoke a word, for example, in the passage from Matthew that we have just heard. Both Matthew and Luke prefer to show us what they were like through their actions: their search for a safe place for Jesus to be born, their efforts to protect their child, fleeing into Egypt while King Herod is looking for him to kill him; their efforts, later on, to bring Jesus up with a deep and sincere devotion to God.

Traditionally, Mary and Joseph have been seen as prime example of parental care and love, But at the same time it has to be said that the bonds of love that derive from marriage and family-membership, are things which belong to every time and every culture.

So for Christ; our ties to each other as individuals devoted to God have a priority over our family relations – and this is all the more true if perhaps our faith in God comes into conflict with our membership of our family.

What we have to remember, I think, is that the kind of love Jesus preached about, and revealed in his own life and ministry, wasn’t identical with the ordinary bonds of affection and care and so on that we have for the members of our own family, or for our friends and the people we like.

The kind of love which was the heart of Christ’s message was the love he showed when he was prepared to go to his death for the sake of mankind, and when he turned round and asked for forgiveness for those who had plotted to kill him.

And what St Paul is recommending to the people he’s writing to, is that they should imitate that love which Christ showed, in their relationships with everyone.                                                                                  “You should be clothed in sincere compassion,” says St Paul, “in kindness, and humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another; forgive each other as soon as the quarrel begins. And over all those things, to keep them together, put on love”.

In a Christian perspective, the family – he says is the place where we should learn to bear with each other’s failings, not where we should expect to experience perfection. It’s the place where we should learn mutual tolerance and patience, not where we’re served up with a seamlessly happy life.

It’s a sad fact, but I think it’s a fact of life just the same – perhaps even more so at the present time – that very often, for all sorts of complicated reasons, the people whom we end up seeing as our enemies, the people with whom we have the most bitter disagreements and who stir up the most violent emotions, are the members of our own family.

When divisions occur in families, they usually run deep. But when these divisions arise, or when there’s a breakdown in the relationships between members of a family, it’s in those circumstances most of all that we need to appeal – not to conventional ideas of family bonds and affection – but to those aspects of Christian love that St Paul is talking about.

Very often in a situation of conflict we can’t be responsible for other people’s decisions and other people’s behaviour. We can only be responsible for our own. And while we shouldn’t feel obliged to allow ourselves to be treated as a doormat, or to remain totally passive in the face of unjust treatment or manipulation, what we often have to do is at least to keep a careful guard over our own motives and our own actions. So that if we are caught up in a bitter dispute, especially in our family, we’re not reacting out of hatred and a desire to win at all costs.

It may turn out that it’s precisely in situations of great stress or breakdown in our families that we come up against the challenge to respond with the values that we profess as Christians. And we’re always doing the right thing if we try to look at the situation in a Christian perspective and try to act out of these motives of gentleness, patience, kindness, and love as far as we possibly can – regardless of the behaviour of the others who are involved, even though it might be very difficult and demand a lot of us.

That is the reflection I would like to offer on the Pauline reading for today’s feast. I don’t think it’s any good conjuring up a trite or sentimental picture of the Holy Family. We have to think of what it means to apply the idea of real holiness to the circumstances and reality of family life in our own time, which is often also very fraught. We have to try and see how the different aspects of Christian love that St Paul talks about are even more relevant to us if we’re caught up in some argument or division with individuals who, in an ideal world, are the people we would be closest to.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Pope Francis once asked us “to remember the 3 key phrases for a life of peace and joy in the family: excuse me, thank you, and I’m sorry.


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