Fox Broadcasting Company, on December 17th, 1989 introduced the American public to “The Simpsons”, the satirical creation of Matt Groening. Groening based the characters on members of his own dysfunctional family (he was “Bart”). Since its debut “The Simpsons” has become the longest running American sitcom – EVER. The show is now in its 26th season and has logged almost 600 episodes.
Why has this cartoon captured the attention of the American public for so long? A big reason, in my opinion, is that so many of us from dysfunctional families can relate to its themes. We see ourselves, our parents, our children, our bosses and our neighbors in these characters, and they make us laugh. And anyone will tell you, laughing is better than crying.
Last Friday I officiated the funeral of my Uncle Gary. He was a very sick man taken quickly by cancer at the age of 65. A confirmed bachelor, a Vietnam Vet, and a lover of all things Harley Davison, his life and memory were celebrated by the gathered family. And as I spent a few days with my extended family I was struck by two realities:
- I love my family and am grateful for them (much grace has touched my life through them)
- My extended family, like most I know, is a patchwork of fractured relationships (weird uncles, estranged siblings, blended families, broken families, addictions, betrayals and plenty of co-dependent people – like me)
No big surprise there, right? A quick look through scripture reveals that fractured families have been the norm since Adam and Eve decided to go their own way. The evidence?
- When confronted by God for their sin Adam shifts the blame to Eve, and Eve shifts the blame to the serpent. No one seems willing to accept responsibility for their own choices.
- Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, kills his brother Abel in a jealous rage.
- Noah, passed out and naked after too much wine, is dishonored by his son who is driven away and cursed.
- Abraham and Sarah decide to “help” God keep his promise by having a child through Sarah’s slave, Hagar. The present day hostility between the Jews and the Arabs can be traced back to this one decision.
- Jacob favors Joseph above his other children, and ensuing resentment drives them to fake Joseph’s death and sell him into slavery.
Need I go on?
But “what about Jesus” you ask? Certainly his family had their act together! Certainly his family was a model of health, love, and godliness? Not so fast…
First, we have the disturbing story of Jesus’ rejection by the people of his hometown (probably some were members of his extended family) in Luke 4. Not only do they reject Jesus’ messianic proclamation, but they are so insulted by him that they try to KILL him. This was an angry and ugly mob determined to get their satisfaction through the spilled blood of Jesus. But the most troubling aspect of this sad story? There is no evidence that his family – his mother or brothers or sisters or aunts or uncles or cousins – attempted to defend him. Nothing. Just an eerie silence. (For an excellent book on this read Mike and Sally Breen’s “Family On Mission”.)
It gets worse. We read in Mark 3 the account of complete family rejection. Mary and Jesus’ brothers show up at the house Jesus is staying at to take charge of him because they thought, “He is out of his mind.” When they are unable to enter the house because of the huge crowd, they send a messenger to bring Jesus. Listen to the way Jesus responds:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
In this one statement Jesus redefines family. He is, in fact, forging a new family identity (the topic of next week’s post).
I am happy to report that most, if not all, of Jesus’ immediate family members believe and follow him in the end. But this does not negate their early unbelief and rejection of his true identity. So, even Jesus had a dysfunctional family…
- As a follower of Jesus I have two families; my natural family and my spiritual family.
- As I seek to imitate Christ, I must give ultimate allegiance to my spiritual family over my biological family. With unconditional love and words of grace and truth I invite my family of origin into my larger spiritual family – trusting that those whom God has prepared will respond.
- Depending on the severity of my family’s dysfunction, I may need to practice “loving detachment” from my flesh and blood family to fully embrace God’s will for my role in my spiritual family.
This is tough stuff my friends! If we are serious about imitating the WAYS of Christ, we must wrestle with this tension. The past few days have been a gut check for me, to be frank. The challenge before me? How to love my natural family well while being faithful to the calling and identity God gives me through my spiritual family.
The new insight for me? Only as I let go of the false guilt and attempts to control the choices of my family members am I able to love them the way God wants me to. Only when I stop trying to save them do I make room for God to work through the relationship in his way and in his timing. Simple, but hard.