Love thy family, save worship for God

A little while ago, I attended a wedding at a Roman Catholic church, and I witnessed a beautiful religious gesture in the middle of the service: offering a bouquet of flowers to the Holy Family and asking for a blessing for the couple’s marriage.

Being United Methodist, I am generally unfamiliar with the veneration of the Virgin Mary, yet I could appreciate the value in recognizing the sacrifice and authority of the Mother of God. I hope we all so recognize the Virgin Mother this Mother’s Day!

However, upon reflecting on stories of the Holy Family in Holy Scripture, I think the picture of “traditional family values” gets more muddled. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, all but disappeared from the gospel narrative by the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, perhaps due to an untimely death. In that case, Jesus should have taken over the responsibility of his family, rather than embarking on a career as a wandering rabbi.

When Jesus’ mother and brothers tried to reign in and protect Jesus from what surely seemed to them a destructive path of needlessly challenging authority, Jesus redefined his family as “whoever does the will of God” (Mark 3:35 ESV). Then when Jesus’ family’s nightmare came true in his crucifixion, Jesus commended his mother to the care of a beloved disciple, rather than the oldest brother as ancient Jewish tradition would have dictated (John 19:26-27).

Given these stories, it is no wonder that many people in the Roman Empire accused Christians of violating the “traditional family values” of the time!

Jesus surely was a radical for his time, and Jesus’ teachings continue to challenge our North American culture today. We should be careful to avoid the idolatry of the nuclear family and save our worship for God alone. God makes God’s love available to all people, regardless of family structure or marital status.

The price which God paid for the ultra-accessibility of God’s love — the death of God’s Son, Jesus Christ — is too high for anyone to place limits on it.

Perhaps we should look to the example of Mother Mary again. While she acted out of concern for the well-being of her eldest son, Mary did not stop him from fulfilling the will of God. Instead, she accompanied and cared for Jesus, even when the religious and political authorities labeled him a danger to society.

Mother Mary was even present for her son’s execution, despite the shame such a death would have brought to her family.

This Mother’s Day, let us indeed honor our mothers and care for our families. Let us tear down walls of shame and suspicion, which we have built over the years. Let us leave our comfort zones to care for the orphaned and abandoned people throughout the world. And let us love boldly, unconditionally and sacrificially — like Jesus Christ, like God the Father, like Mother Mary.

Pastor Joseph Hopkins serves the Avis United Methodist Church at 215 Prospect Ave., Avis.