When Doan and I were on our way to getting married, one thing I quickly learned was that we had two very different concepts of family. I grew up with a very American concept of family, which revolves around the idea of a nuclear family with branches going out to cousins and the such and up to grandma and grandpa. I didn’t see my extended family very often, and though they are all lovely people, outside of a couple of aunts and uncles and cousins, I just didn’t know them very well. Doan’s family is very different, reflective of their heritage. From my perspective, at least, everyone who is even mildly related is family family, worthy of an invite or a visit and to be honored. Somehow her family is both huge and tight.
“Family is the central social institution in the ancient Mediterranean world, just as economics are in our world. Jesus’ requirement that his followers should love him more than they love mother, father, son, or daughter shock(ed) his first-century listeners.
“The ancient Middle Eastern family was very large and quite extended. It consisted of a father and all his children, including his married sons with their entire families, living in one place. The ideal marriage partner was a first cousin (one’s father’s brother’s daughter), which bound this close-knit family together with even tighter bonds. The resultant mentality was “our family” against “everyone else.”
“To marry anyone other than a family member was unthinkable. To sever all family ties as did the “prodigal son” was not only stupid but equivalent to suicide. Outside the family, no one can be trusted, no one will help you, as that renegade son quickly learned when his funds ran out.
“The real consequences of leaving one’s family are dire indeed. One not only gives up the basic claim to honor and status but also loses all of the family’s economic, religious, educational, and social connections as well. Perhaps most disastrous of all consequences is loss of a connection to the land. These are all serious and life-threatening losses. They are (perhaps a good portion of) what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of “taking up one’s cross” and “losing one’s life for my sake.””1
St. Paul tells us today of another life-threatening condition, that is living life outside of the family of Christ. But even life in Christ is somehow wrapped up in death. “Paul says flat out that as baptized followers of Jesus, we have died, we have been buried, our former nature was crucified, we have been freed from sin. These are all past tense expressions.
“Typically when we talk this way about our own lives, we are expressing things that are over and done with and whose effect, therefore, is ongoing. If I tell you that I was fired from a certain job, then the implication is that I am still fired today and I will be in a state of having been fired tomorrow, too. My knowing this will keep me from driving to the office again for work tomorrow morning. You wouldn’t have to remind me not to go back into work. I would know I have been fired and so would know not to report for work.
That’s the way Paul talks about our identification with Jesus’ death and all that this implies for our relationship to sin. It’s past tense. It is who we are by baptism. We are dead to sin. And yet before this same passage is finished, you find Paul saying things like, “Therefore, count yourselves dead to sin. Remember that this is true. Don’t keep on sinning. Don’t use your body for immoral purposes. Instead, choose to do better things that glorify God.””2
Today, through the baptism of little Jaxon, we will have a new family member, one who has died to sin and has been raised to new life in Jesus. It is now our duty to remind him and each other that just because we are baptized, that doesn’t mean that sin and the slavery that comes with it can’t take hold. It’s our job, with God’s help, to live as if Christ lives in us, because He does. That’s our job, because that’s what families do.
1John J. Pilch, http://liturgy.slu.edu/13OrdA070217/theword_cultural.html
2Scott Hoezee, This Week http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-7a/?type=lectionary_epistle