In the Name...
A little boy opened the big family Bible with fascination. As he turned the old pages something fell out and he picked it up. It was a leaf that had been pressed in between the pages many years before. "Mommy, look what I found," the boy called out, "I think it's Adam's underwear!" Sometimes, the Scriptures appointed for our consideration on Sundays can seem to be random selections rather like roulette-spinning the Bible and seeing what falls out. But, in fact, they have been carefully chosen to illustrate certain themes and this morning is no exception.
Our Old Testament reading was part of the story of Adam and Eve - the serpent in the garden and the apple. Very well known. In the Gospel, we had a much less well known scene where Jesus was under pressure to abandon his ministry. And, in both cases, the common element is family. And the theme, the warning, is that misguided love for family can lead one into sin.
Now, that's a strange sort of thing to be saying in church, because, if anything, Christians are supposed to be extremely pro-family. Can you love your family too much? And yet, the old adage holds true that one can have too much of a good thing - even love.
When God created Adam he told him not to eat from a couple of trees in the Garden. When Eve comes along, Adam tells her what not to eat. Then, Satan approaches Eve and creates doubts. It's really quite a long conversation they have. And, eventually, Eve eats. So far nothing new. But, it's the next part that's significant. It says that Eve then gave the fruit to Adam and he ate. Just like that. There's no argument, no discussion, no warning from Adam. Have you ever wondered about that? The speed, the lack of commentary. It's a very important detail.
Adam eats because he loves Eve. I'll say that again. Adam eats because he loves Eve and he's afraid of losing her. He knows what God has said, but, he also knows how lonely he was without her and he fears an eternity of loneliness if God destroys her in anger. And so, instead of trusting in God's love and forgiveness he lets his love cloud his judgment, and don't we know people who are in that situation every day? Don’t we know people who endure physical or emotional abuse; who are trapped by a poisonous mixture of love and fear? Who suffer because they can't imagine coping with the final breakdown of the relationship?
Some years ago, there was a senior FBI agent named Robert Hanssen who was found to be selling secrets to the Soviets. It turned out his wife knew everything that he was doing and hated everything he was doing, but, she kept quiet because she convinced herself that if she went along with it, he might eventually stop.
Maybe we know about addicts who persuade their spouses to accept their behaviour and even join in. "Well, if you really love me..." - fill in the blank.
And, it happens with God. In my NY parish, we had a single woman who had been a weekly attender for years. All of a sudden, we began to see her twice a month, then once a month, and then hardly at all. You see, she found a boyfriend, who was a really nice guy, but, he was non-religious. And, so, she didn't want to risk losing him by seeming too religious.
In the Gospel, we see the Pharisees trying to put this same sort of pressure on Jesus. Jesus was becoming a spectacle, an embarrassment. Every time they tried to argue him down, he turned the argument around. They accused him of heinous crimes - even being possessed- but, that only made them look more foolish. Every attempt to discredit him failed. But, maybe his family could be used to shut him up. So, they sent for his relatives.
And, it says they even sent for his mother, Mary. Now, imagine the pressure brought to bear on her. This is the woman who had said "Yes" to the angel of the Lord; who had carried in her heart for thirty years the prophecies of Simeon and Anna; who had found her son debating in the Temple at the age of 12. She knew better, but, she was forced to be there.
And, the Pharisees were sure they'd won. Surely, Jesus would have to submit to those nearest him in blood relation. Surely, he would have to abandon his disturbing teachings in obedience to the 5th Commandment.
But, Jesus knew all too well that, in obedience to that same commandment, he had to be about his Father's business and so he resisted. "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And in saying this, he wasn't just saying it for himself. These are words each of us needs to say when confronted by the same temptation.
Back in Allentown, PA, I was in a conversation with a grown man who hadn’t gone to any church for years. I told him about the Episcopal Church and he seemed quite interested. I invited him to visit us, but, he replied that if he did, it would kill his mother. And, he would be killed by his brothers and sisters and uncles and aunts and nieces and nephews and cousins because we're not the kind of church of which they approve even though, and this is the point, most of them didn't go to any church, either. But, it’s apparently better to go nowhere than to the wrong kind of church.
If we are going to call God, "Our Father", then sometimes that means we have to re-evaluate our priorities. Are we putting someone ahead of God? Are we compromising our mission and ministry, our souls, for a little earthly peace? Are we drifting to please others or out of fear of losing their goodwill?
Peer pressure. We hear a lot about it and it’s never worse than when it is in the family context. It takes a lot of strength to stand up to that. It takes a confidence about the future, a reliance on God, and a lack of fear in what may or may not happen if we refuse to give in.
Jesus knows that love is a good thing, but, he wants us to be warned that misguided love of other humans can be as damaging to our spiritual well-being as misguided love of things or love of position. In all those cases we become blind to what really matters and especially to the relationship which is most important, the relationship with God as our Father and Jesus as our brother, and with each other as members of the Body of Christ.
So, may we have, and follow, as St. John says, the perfect love which casts out fear and may we always find our life in Christ.
In the Name...