November 26, 2015 at 10:19 am Leave a comment

I have been watching the ABC television series Peaky Blinders. It is about a gangster family in Birmingham, England after WWI. Thomas Shelby, a war hero though haunted by some of his experiences in the war, becomes head of the family and is ambitious to expand their influence and wealth. The story traces the development of Thomas’ life and that of the organised crime syndicate he heads up. In order to increase his influence he joins up with a gypsy group confirmed when he gets one of his brothers to marry a gypsy woman. Thomas and an Irish woman fall in love but he is not willing to go with her to New York to start a new life. His family and the crime syndicate are his prime loyalty. He wants to expand into London. To do so he joins with a Jewish gangster so as to be strong enough to challenge the dominant Italian gangster. In all this a determined police officer wants to bring him down and use him for his own larger purposes.

Gangster families are strong. Their loyalties are to one another not outsiders. There is genuine concern for the needs of those in the family even though they are ruthless towards others. Thomas shows consideration for his sister and aunt and is protective of his unstable and violent elder brother.

In Australian society polls consistently indicate that family is people’s primary allegiance despite the high divorce rate. Single parent families may struggle and blended families have their issues. Nevertheless, most people affirm the importance of family – parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, etc. Migrant-ethnic families tend to be stronger than most Anglo families for they appreciate the value of their culture and family tradition.

As a Christian it is informative to look at Jesus’ attitude to family. He did not in fact make family his highest priority despite Jewish tradition. His primary loyalty was to God the Father and God’s reign which was not limited to one’s own people. One time when told his mother and brothers and sisters were outside, Jesus replied “Who are my mother and my brothers? …. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother” (Mark 3:33-35).

It is not that Jesus disregarded his family, but he certainly put it second to being true to God’s call on his life and his mission of ushering in the reign of God. Nevertheless, he did care for his mother. On the cross he entrusted her into the care of the apostle John (John 19:26-27). One of his brothers, James, became a leader in the early Christian community. Paul mentions meeting with him (Galatians 1:18-19).

Jesus wanted people to be fully committed to him and the kingdom of God he proclaimed. To one would be follower who said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” To another who said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home,” Jesus replied to him “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-62).

For Jesus being true to him and the gospel of the kingdom of God was more important than anything else. This may even divide families. In uncompromising terms he said, “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: 34-38).

There have often been times when becoming a follower of Jesus Christ has resulted in a break from the family or the family has rejected the person. Becoming a Christian was seen as a betrayal of family and culture. People were willing to pay that price for the sake of becoming identified with Jesus and what he stood for. The Christian movement would not have spread across cultural boundaries if that did not happen.

Family is important for it is made up of our closest relationships. Even more important is loyalty to Jesus and to God’s kingdom. God’s reign embraces all people. We are to recognise God as our heavenly Parent and that all people are God’s children. God’s desire is that all are reconciled and living in a right relationship with God and one another. As followers of Jesus we are called to seek God’s reign by working for peace and justice and reconciliation. This would include but goes beyond family or ethnic loyalties to embrace all people. Loyalty to family needs to come under this larger faithfulness to God.

Sometimes people can get so caught up in the church that family members feel ignored. This is unfortunate as we do need to ensure those closest to us receive the love and attention they need. Nevertheless it is possible for family expectations and what one believes God is calling us to can conflict. Difficult choices sometimes have to be made. Families that put God first hopefully can work through these tensions seeking prayerfully what is best.

Jesus in effect promises that joining with him means becoming part of a larger family. He said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age – houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30). Note that he mentions persecutions for suffering for his sake may well be an outcome of living as a follower of Jesus in this life.

Family then is important but is to be second to faithfulness to Jesus and God’s kingdom. Jesus calls us to a larger loyalty that embraces all people and carries out God’s loving will for all.


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