In our last essay we wrote about the definition of families in the world where Jesus ministered in order to better understand what He taught about His Father’s family, what He called the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’s day families—both wealthy and those with fairly meager means—would be more accurately described as households. They were comprised of not only what we call the nuclear family—consisting of father, mother and children—but also aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, and their families. The patriarch controlled those kinship-bound members of the household as well as his slaves, bondsmen, servants, laborers, and a whole host of other “retainers” whose numbers depended on the household’s economic status.
We wrote that God’s family was infinitely more inclusive. The rank and destiny of individuals in His family were not prescribed by earthly connections, wealth, ethnicity, or even whether they were Jew or Gentile. When by way of baptism individuals joined the covenant descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they were reestablished in Heavenly Father’s family line as His heirs, sharing the same promise as His Firstborn Son no matter whether they were male or female, slaves or freed persons, wealthy or poor.
Finally, we wrote that we were reminded of at least three principles Jesus taught about our ritual commitments to the Kingdom of God that we have made by way of baptism and temple covenants and furthermore about God’s promised “endowment” of privilege provided we love Him, “keep all [His] commandments,” and—in some of the most comforting language of all scripture—“seeketh so to do” what He asks of us (DC 46:9). Here are three other insights into Christ’s teachings about the family.
1. We came to understand that the “new” covenant family that Jesus called the Kingdom of God on earth was really the renewal of God’s promise to Abraham and the Children of Israel. Moreover, the new covenant was never intended to diminish the bonds we forge in biological or adoptive family lines.
The familiar language of the King James Version of Luke 14:26 presents a seemingly insoluble paradox when His mother and His brothers asked to see Jesus. He said, “If any man” came to Him and did not “hate” his father, mother, wife, children, and brothers and sisters, or even “his own life also, he cannot be [My] disciple.” However, we must understand a contextual definition of that terrible “Sophie’s choice” that Jesus seemingly asks us to make upon being baptized. Several newer translations suggest that the meaning of “hate” in this case is better read as “preferring” God and His Kingdom. This choice doesn’t destroy our connection to family but rather broadens our definition of family from the narrower, exclusionary definition of family to strictly kinship relationships. So “by comparison,” Jesus asked us to consider all mankind—from the most highly esteemed to the most despicable amongst us—as our brothers and sisters. We must, He said, be willing to lay down our lives not only for His sake but also for the sake of all His children. We must “bear their burdens.” We must “mourn with those that mourn.” And we must “comfort” and serve those in need of such succor (Mosiah 18:9).
2. We came to understand more than ever that partners in the marriage covenant must be faithful to the promises they make to each other and before “God, angels, and witnesses.”
In addition to His extraordinary teachings about the Kingdom of God, Jesus
spoke about the enormous importance of specific principles intended to fortify marriage, children, and parental relationships.
For example, Jesus reflected the teaching of Malachi, who stressed the importance of keeping the “vows you . . . made when you were young.” The Lord, Malachi said, wanted “Godly children” from the marriage union. So He commanded that marriage partners must “guard your heart[s]; remain loyal to the wife [or husband] of your youth” (Mal. 2:15-16 NLT).
The Savior’s teachings on fidelity in the Sermon on the Mount are striking reminders for all of us who try to be His disciples in a society beset by moral relativism. Some of the newer translations are even more stunning on the subjects of marriage and divorce than the Elizabethan language of the King James Version. One example was particularly impressive and provides clear counsel to married couples:
Don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. . . .
[You should as well] chop off your right hand the moment you notice it raised threateningly [toward your spouse]. . . .
Too many of you are using [divorce] as a cover for selfishness and a whim (Matt. 5:27-32, The Message).
3. We came to understand more than ever the importance of the commandments Moses received on Sinai—to honor our parents and love and serve one another.
We learned about the importance of context for general attitudes about children in first-century Palestine. Small children were sometimes considered more of a nuisance than an asset until they were mature enough to work and contribute to the household. Paul wrote that even children of the master of the household “differeth nothing from a servant” until they were grown (Gal. 4:1 KJV). Jesus, on the other hand, welcomed and acknowledged their worth and importance. Children, He said, epitomized attributes that members of the Christian community were to cultivate. He said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. . . . Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein” (Mark 10:14–15 KJV).
Jesus’s teachings on fortifying our families also obligated adult children to honor and care for their parents. For example, when some Pharisees and teachers of the religious law came from Jerusalem to confront Him, He pointed out the hypocrisy of using technicalities of the Oral Law to break one of the commandments brought by Moses from the Mount. “Honor thy father and thy mother” was an affirmative obligation (Ex. 20:12 KJV). But some of the strictly religious took advantage of a rule called Corban. The precise meaning of the word is difficult to ascertain, but we know it was a way of pledging money and property for the temple and the exclusive use of God so that if an adult child wanted to protect his wealth, he declared it Corban, and “thereafter it might never again be used for any ordinary or secular purpose.” Consequently, if a man’s parents were in dire need, the son could simply say, “I am sorry that I cannot give you any help because nothing that I have is available for you; it is all dedicated to God.” But once the parent or parents died, it was possible to have money or property returned. Jesus condemned Corban in no uncertain terms for its obvious cruel hypocrisy. He said, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:6-7 KJV).
Again and again, we understand His flawless love and desire for us to simply “love one another.”
Lead image from Mormon Channel
James and Judith McConkie are the authors of Whom Say Ye That I Am: Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth, published by Kofford Books. It is available at Deseret Book stores and online and through barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com. This is the fourth in a series of essays about the book. Watch for more on ldsliving.com.