By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

Contrasting Words from Jesus

This morning as I listened to PAYG the reading was from Matthew 15:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat."
He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
For God said, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.'  But you say that whoever tells father or mother, 'Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,' then that person need not honor the father.  So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.  You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.'"
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, "Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles."

Matthew 15: 1 - 11 NRSV

I first found myself pondering these words in the light of Sunday coming being Mothering Sunday/Mother's Day and the fact that for me church has so often supplanted time/energy for family.  But then I recalled other things Jesus said about families, choosing to remain with Matthew as a 'coherent' writing rather than gospel hopping.  Thus we have...

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10: 35 - 38 NRSV

While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him.  Someone told him, "Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."
But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?"  And pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

Matthew 12: 46 - 50 NRSV

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life.

Matthew 19: 29

So, whilst the Pharisees are criticised for a tradition that leads to people not supporting their parents becuase they've given their time/energy/money to God (I guess that has an implicit 'allegedly'), Jesus expects himself to be placed higher in priority than parents or siblings.  It certainly seems that Jesus' relationship with his own family was "interesting".  I am fairly sure the words addressed to the Pharisees refer to practices that were about appearance not intent, but, at face value anyway, the commands are pretty similar... give to me the time/energy/money you might otherwise have given to your family.

Often times ministers and missionaries find themselves torn between the demands of family and of church (or, nominally anyway, of Christ) and I'm not too sure these passages help much.

Nothing new in what I'm saying here and a lot more thinking could, I'm sure, resolve some of the confusion.  Perhaps as Mothering Sunday nears we could spare a thought for those whose discipleship takes them geographically far from their families - especially missionaries - and for whom this tension always lurks in the shadows.


  • There is a tension implicit in these texts and I still feel it most weeks after nearly 8 years in training and ministry. But I'm getting better at making the judgement.

    I also feel this tension when asking people to take on roles which will conflict with their family obligations. All have to find their own balances and tipping points. These will be different for each person and the reasons may remain private and personal and have to be respected as such.

    Is part of this about encouraging people to say no when they mean it and not just to say yes to everything that the church may place on them? I have to be especially careful as a leader not to exploit people who always say yes.

    I know what I would like to see done. But it's not up to me where people in good conscience set their own boundaries.

The comments are closed.