Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Cherry Meringue Dark Chocolate
Today’s Passage: Matthew 10
You know what? I think modern American Christianity worships the family.
Okay, that’s an attention grab if I ever wrote one. To leave that statement unqualified would be misleading at best, leaving this post’s integrity compromised, because strictly speaking, I know it’s not true. First, American Christianity is merely prone to worship the family; its priorities and character leave it vulnerable to family-values idolatry. Second, which American Christianity? American Catholicism? Evangelicalism? Are we going to include Mormonism in there? There are many modern American Christianities, and in their various forms, they all have unique strengths and propensities for error. If I’m going to begin by painting with a broad brush, I’d better get out some smaller ones for the detail work.
But in Matthew 10, as Jesus sends out the twelve disciples to spread the ministry of the kingdom, he cautions against idolatry of the family, and I think his words are salient for our time as well as his. He warns his disciples, “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death” (21). With the benefit of historical hindsight, we know that the majority of the twelve died martyrs’ deaths, so the brothers among the disciples stayed faithful to their faith and to each other: no intrafamilial sellouts. Still, I can’t help wondering if Peter and Andrew, or James and John, glanced nervously at each other as Jesus told them what was to come. How did their decision to follow Jesus, even to the grave, square with the rest of their families?
But Jesus cautions even more strongly against idolatry of the family as he nears the end of his instructions to his disciples. He tells them:
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (37-39)
Jews had traditionally viewed God as not just the God of each of them individually, but the God of their fathers, and the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But here Jesus says that not only does God need to take higher priority than your family and your family line, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, but Jesus himself needs to take highest priority. The implication? If our fathers and mothers aren’t following Jesus, they aren’t following God, and we must be ready to give Jesus priority over our own families, even our own selves.
But here’s the thing: family isn’t God, but family is good. Or, to put it a different way, metal is useful until you mold it into an idol and worship it, and it’s the same way with family: good in its proper place. So if you’re giving up your biological family to follow Jesus Christ, you’d better be getting a better family back. And, as it turns out, you do. Shortly we’ll be coming up on Matthew 12:46-50, in which you may recall Jesus declares anyone who does the will of God to be his family. And when Peter reminds Jesus that the disciples have left everything to follow him, Jesus replies, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30). Wherever faith in Jesus requires a person to make choices that will alienate their earthly family, that same faith introduces that person into the family of Jesus Christ, a family in which every member stands to inherit eternal life in the age to come.
Perhaps America’s tendency to idolize the family stems from the prevalence of Christianity within its borders. Those in countries where Christianity is a minority religion, taboo, or even illegal perhaps have a better idea that the nuclear family isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When your parents and siblings disown you simply for following Jesus and believing his teachings, I expect it’s an eye-opener as to where your true priorities should lie. But investigating these questions would be an endeavor for another time.