Isaiah 65:17-25 and Isaiah 12 • Malachi 4:1-2a and Psalm 98 • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 • Luke 21:5-19
This week's readings, taken as a whole, are all about family: gone right and gone wrong. Isaiah 65, for instance, talks about the coming age where no infant will die (v. 20) – all families will enjoy full and prosperous lives. Then there is Malachi 4, which promises not only a fire to burn the arrogant (v. 1), but also a time of mercy, when parents' hearts will be turned towards their children and children's towards their parents (v. 6). Moving on to the reading from Second Thessalonians, there is a warning not to take advantage of hard-working siblings; in a twist of human fate, the same patterns of in-fighting among siblings who in that time usually worked together for the economic good of the family had emerged between 'brothers and sisters' in the community. Finally, in Luke, Jesus is predicting a time of great destruction when people would be betrayed by their closest family and friends.
It seems that the worst betrayals come from people that one had trusted. A terrible story from North Korea comes to mind, of a night at a party when one of the Kim rulers accused a woman of a crime against the state. Her husband asked to be the one to shoot her – doing so right then. I wonder if this is the sort of thing that Jesus was talking about when he is saying that "you will be hated by all because of my name" (v. 17). Not that she was a Christian – living in North Korea, she may never have heard of Jesus. But let us say that she had somehow stood up to that cruel regime: in effect, hated because she was being true to her best and bravest self. Her character was what Jesus himself accomplished: the ability to stay true to one's own principles in the most difficult of circumstances.
While being true to self, it has also been important for humans to join together for the good of the group, cooperating against a relatively hostile world to hunt or farm or dwell together. If we can, in this early part of the 21st century, beginning with our families, turn our hearts towards one another rather than away from one another, perhaps we have a chance to work together, so that our species (and many others) can survive. I believe this is the beginning of social justice. If a person can be engaged with family members in life-giving ways – clear about one's own thoughts and listening to another without becoming reactive or shutting down or agreeing without question –then one has more capacity to speak one's mind to the world.
Staying connected with family members while taking a position for oneself is deceptively difficult. In North Korea, apparently family members don't talk amongst themselves about the Kim regime, except when agreeing with the regime's views. In the U.S., it seems that when it comes to politics, family members often either totally agree or agree not to discuss their differences. It's not that surprising. Human beings are, after all, just mammals – and mammals live in small groups, dedicated to the survival of the group, not the species. Under pressure, group loyalties run high while the capacity to think independently runs low. Whether one is living around 30 BCE in a Jewish community under Roman rule, or in the current era of increasing population and climate upheaval, anxiety and pressures to conform run high. Maybe humans are up to the challenge. Maybe not. It may begin with being a distinct person within that first tribe, one's family.
Morning: Where are my chances to work on my own reactivity with family members?
Evening: In conversations with family members, where was I able to be myself?