Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Sword and the Cross: Mary, Jesus, and the Family of God

One of the more difficult aspects of following Christ is the demand that it puts upon your family. I am not speaking of just the time involved, although it does include that. But specifically, I refer to the division that Christ brings to families. It is an aspect of Christian discipleship that many find offensive.

I was reminded of this while reading Mary for Evangelicals by Tim Perry. Perry rightfully points out that in each of the Gospels, Jesus’ definition of the family was radically different from that of His (and our) society. For Jesus, family was not so much a matter of biology but discipleship (cf. Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21; John 19:25-27). He knew that His mission and role would sever even the closest relationship in the human family – that of mother and child. Even Mary struggled with this. In Mark 3:20-21, she seeks to restrain Jesus, believing Him to be out of His mind. While her actions are undoubtedly well-intentioned, they how easily the call to follow Jesus may be missed and how divisive it can be for the family. In Luke’s gospel we learn that Mary’s faith in Jesus was not one of pious acceptance but one born out of struggle, thought and doubt. In Luke 2:34-35 we read how “Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, "Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

Generally commentators come to one of two conclusions concerning the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart: 1) it refers to the suffering she endures as she witnesses the rejection and death of her son, or 2) it refers to the difficult, divisive decision that she will need to make in her own life as to whether she will embrace her son’s message and mission or will she insist on seeing him primarily as her son. Mary, like the rest of Israel, will wrestle with accepting her son’s mission (Luke 2:41-50; 8:19-21). It seems to me that the second interpretation is more likely. Mary must learn that her association with Jesus cannot be based on physical kinship but on accomplishing the will of God.

Recently some missiologists have suggested that perhaps we need to rethink what it means to follow Christ so as to minimize the impact that it has on such institutions like the family. Some call it “churchless Christianity.” The thought is that perhaps believers in other religious contexts such as Islam or Hinduism need not separate themselves from those contexts but can remain in them as private believers, thereby preserving themselves from any kind of harm. This would perhaps keep doors open for private witnessing. The converts are never baptized, never make a public declaration of their faith, and never become part of a church.

This is crossless Christianity and must be identified as such. It has no support in the biblical record. It contradicts the words and actions of Jesus and His apostles. Following Christ has a cost. It always has and it always will. True Christianity is always lived out in the shadow of the cross and the sword. Like Mary, we may wrestle with the cost of following Jesus but we cannot avoid it and still call ourselves a follower of Jesus.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Thank you for this post. It really blessed me today.