The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Biblical Inspiration for Christian Families Today

1. The family, as nucleus of society, was governed by a set of private rules from early times, both in civil and religious society. As the Christian church solidified from individual believers to entire families it put together such codes for its own members. We have examples of them in the New Testament letters, which can still serve as a guide and an inspiration for families today, paying due attention to the change of conditions over the intervening two thousand years.

2. Some of these New Testament codes were intended for extended and mixed families, with the father of the family and the mother at the centre, but also, as in pagan Roman society, with slaves and their masters.

3. No matter what was the relationship within this group, and who was subject to whom (wife to husband, slave to master), to all, the person of Christ and his teaching on mutual relations was central. What Jesus had said to the crowds and his disciples would be remembered (Matthew 23:8-12): “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students (or: brothers and sisters). And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father—the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.” Nor would Paul’s expressed desire to the Philippians (Phil 2:2-4) be forgotten: “Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Guided by such generally accepted principles the code of family conduct, and stated obediences, is introduced by the following principle (Ephesians 5:21): “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ”. Reverence for Christ in these family relations introduces a completely new dimension. The reverence respects the other, and has her or his growth in Christian life in mind. The same holds for the final section (not relevant to day) on masters and slaves. Both will be rewarded or punished. The masters are to stop threatening their slaves, because both master and slave have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality (Ephesians 6:9).

4. How draw inspiration from these readings for Christian families today is another matter. The person of Christ and what it means must be central. Many children as minors will attend Sunday Mass with their parents, but later fall away from this attendance, but not necessarily from the faith. It will be for parents to do their best to prepare them to continue a life of prayer (little prayer books not excluded) when they begin to live independent lives. A knowledge of the faith for young adults beyond what can be communicated at Sunday Masses is indicated. Parents need explore how achieve this. Contact with books and organizations that deal with the matter can help. But the central role of the family, parents and children as a unit, in understanding and handing on the faith, faith in Christ, and the Church is as central as ever.

(For reflections on today’s Gospel reading and the Eucharist see last Sunday’s “Dialogue with Questions of the Day”) 20th Sunday of the Year (B), 16 August 2015: Jesus Christ the Bread of Life. Redemption. Murmuring. A Sign to be Contradicted”; also The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day, in 17th Sunday of the Year (B), July 26, 2015: The Eucharist: A Multifaceted Memorial, Remembrance, of what Jesus is”)

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