The Anti-Family Values of Jesus

For I have come to turn
‘a man against his father,
    a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." 
  -  (Matthew 10:35-38)

Jesus’ take on the family in Matthew 10 seems from an initial reading as rather harsh, doesn’t it? Remember hearing a lot about family values in our politics? Interestingly, you don’t hear as much about it anymore. I wonder why?But Jesus seems to be dismissing family values. In fact, he seems to be condemning family values. He seems out to destroy families. In the least, he seems out to divide families. What is this about?
Well, let’s look a little deeper at what Jesus is really criticizing. It’s something he criticizes a lot in the gospels.

Do you all know what a pyramid scheme is? Basically, it is an illegal but common business scheme where there is one guy at the top who is in control and wealthy. This guy gets people to sell something of his and he takes a big portion of the money they sell. More levels of people selling things follow with the money flowing up through all those above and a lot into the big guy at the tops pocket. It is sort of trickle-down economics in reverse. Most of the money made at the bottom levels through the sale of a product, that money trickles back up, filling the coffers of those above.
This kind of pyramid scheme, but on a society scale, is everywhere in Jesus’ time.
The result is rigid, institutionalized hierarchy. This hierarchy that society’s pyramid scheme has built, it means a huge divide between those at the top and those below. The Big Man is at the top, there is a clear line between the top and the levels below. And whatever power, wealth or betterment there is to be had, a big portion goes to the top. 
This structure applies even to the family in Ancient Palestine. In fact, it starts in the family of Jesus’ time. The father ruled the roost. It was a heavily patriarchal society. The father was the king in the family. The mother was well below, followed just a little bit in the order of things by the oldest son. Younger sons follow, then the oldest sister, then younger sisters. At the very bottom are daughter-in-laws, beginning with the one who marries the oldest son and lives with the immediate family.
And Jesus does not like this set-up one bit! He deplores it, in fact. This is the style of family Jesus is referring to in Matthew 10. It was basically a family pyramid scheme. He hated all pyramid schemes even though they defined how things were in his society. He hated this set-up so much that he wanted to topple it, turn things on their head, upend the pyramid. And he calls on his disciples to join him in toppling, in this upending.
Jesus talks over and over again about a new paradigm. One to replace the pyramid schemes everywhere. The new paradigm of the Kingdom of God.
This new paradigm begins with God as Father not above us but with us.
The Father God Jesus shows us is unlike the fathers defined by his culture. In fact, the Father God Jesus shows us is countercultural. This Father God possessed motherly qualities. This Father God, according to Jesus, was as feminine as he was masculine by his culture’s standards. This was revolutionary to those listening to Jesus. It is no wonder the religious authorities were shocked and offended. The way Jesus referred to God as Father and as a father that was so motherly, it was a shock to the religious system.
What’s more, this God comes down to the lowest levels of society and lifts-up the lowest, the least, and last. This God comes down to earth to topple and crush the pyramids everywhere. Crush the pyramids into a road leading to the Kingdom of God, a kingdom marked by equality among all, by justice for all and compassion toward all.
This toppling Jesus calls for must happen from top to bottom. This toppling means the traditional family system is upended. The traditional family system, based on rigid hierarchy and a pyramid scheme like approach, Jesus has come to turn this kind of family on its head.
The aim of this upending is that love itself becomes the center of the home. The aim is family life built on the equilibrium and equalizer of Love. In this new paradigm, Father-Mother comes down to the children’s level and collaborates to create a new way. Children are no longer obliged to adorn the patriarch with honor and respect but instead look to the reality of a loving relationship with their parents for meaning and purpose, and out of relationship honor and respect naturally comes. Mother-in-law and daughter-in-law join hands and throw the letter of the law away for the spirit of Love.
Jesus envisions a beloved community, beginning with a new way of doing family and moving outward, a beloved community where all meet at the center of Love, where God equalizes and evens out all disparities and divisions, where authority is shared and collaboration is a way of life, even between parent and children.

I close with maybe the most difficult verses of Matthew 10, vs. 37-38, where Jesus says if you love your parents or your children more than me, you are not worthy of me.
The love Jesus wants, the one he wants his disciples to have toward their parents and toward him, their teacher, is not a sentimental, attachment sort of love. The kind of love Jesus wants us to show is the love that God shows. Jesus wants us to love others, including our parents or our children, with the same love that God loves us with. The Love that God loves us with is known as Agape Love. It is an eternal, unconditional love, the profoundest love marked by grace and forgiveness, by tenderness and tenacity. It is a love that knows no greater or lesser, no more or less. It is a love that knows no boundaries. If we love our parents and our children with this love and we love Jesus with this kind of love, it is the same love. 

So with Agape love there is no loving anyone more than another. With Agape love, there is no loving father or child more than loving our teacher. Love for parent or child, if a godly love, partakes of the same love shown for Christ or for God. There is just one love and the loving another with this one love. That is the goal a disciple of Jesus should have and seek after, a love that makes real equality, justice, and compassion. Will such a love ever be perfected in us? Not in this life. Will we naturally love our parents and especially our children more than we love an abstract idea of God? Of course. But know this: the journey of loving one another with the one Love of God, that is the singular destination. The better we love our parents and our children, the better we love God. For there is One Love and it works through all the universe and in our loving of another.


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