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Family life in the new age

The story of Jesus at the temple when he was twelve shows him in his humanity as a member of a natural family, as a child growing up in the traditions of his people, the Jews. At the same time it points beyond the natural family to a special relationship with his heavenly Father. In showing him in his ordinary family and yet having also an extraordinary character in a different kind of family relationship, the gospel points us beyond our natural families to the fulfilment of our potential to become children of God.

Parents of Jesus, his natural family in Jewish custom

Mary and Joseph are seen in the infant narratives in Luke as ordinary Jewish parents doing what was expected of them in their society. At the right time he was taken to the temple: and yet strange things occurred which gave them cause for wonder at the character of their child.

Later, he would be introduced to Jewish teaching in the synagogue and taught the practices of prayer, attendance at worship and reading the Hebrew scriptures, which he followed `as was his practice' in his adult life. In the story from the Gospel for today, the trip to Jerusalem when he was twelve was also part of this ordinary Jewish upbringing. On that occasion, he was given a good deal of freedom when they thought he was with friends on the return journey. Nevertheless they showed normal parental anxiety:

See how he used his freedom to begin to work out his primary purpose in life, revealing as always in these stories more about him than his ordinary parents expected:

The people of Nazareth never forgot his natural family of origin:

And Jesus himself maintained the traditional teaching on the importance of the family. When Jesus was asked about eternal life he responded with what God required of them and referred to the Old Testament commandments: to love God and your neighbour, saying you should honour your parents:

Marriage and divorce

There can be little doubt that the natural family Jesus understood and reinforced in his teaching was a family founded on marriage. The natural family was important and marriage was especially important to him. Jesus saw marriage as based in the natural order of creation, and being used in the purposes of God [See also the sermon One Flesh and others linked to it].

But there were more important relationships than of parents with their child and more important than the bond between husband and wife.

The priority of relationship with God

Some of his sayings are so strong as to appear to contradict his support for the natural family, but they are understandable as part of the memory of his teaching in the early church under conditions of persecution. They knew that what Jesus said about the natural family was to be kept in perspective as part of the teaching of Jesus about the primacy of our relationship with God, which was after all the purpose of his mission. Christians need to remember this at Christmas time when the human family can be raised to a position of idolatry.

If anything stood in the way of the Kingdom or of our potential to become children of God it had to take second place:-

These sayings are also understandable in view of the function of the natural family to prepare us for the completion of God's plan for the world, the purpose of human life being fulfilled in the family of the new age. The radical departure from the natural but fallen way of life which the coming of the Kingdom occasioned inevitably bought tensions: not peace but the sword:

So the rewards of heavenly love in a new family would be greater than any that had been lost:

Beyond marriage and the natural family -- in the new age

It is for the sake of the Kingdom that the old law is superseded in this life as it will be in any case in the age to come. That was shown in what Jesus said about both marriage and relationships between parents and children.

The key to understanding his attitude is the power he had to enable people to become children of God:-

Only beyond this life do we enter fully into our inheritance as children God, adopted already into the family of God though we may be (and adoptive parents and children can love one another just much as members of a natural family). But we begin to know its value and its character in this life now as we enjoy the fruits of the Spirit by whose witness we know that we are children of God.

There is a strange innocence about the children of God:-

The peace extends to fulfil his purpose of unity for all humankind. So our being children of God is both a result of the coming of the Kingdom and a means of its extension.

So it was the purpose of Jesus to be about his Father's business, beyond the natural family within which the hope of better things is nurtured, to gather into one family the dispersed children of God. All praise and thanksgiving to God who in the Holy Family laid the foundations for us to belong to the family of God. Amen.

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