Monday, 23 July 2012

Not the Family Kind - 24.07.12

A Homily for Holy Communion on Tuesday, 24th of July, 2012, 9 a.m. for the Sisters of the Love of God Fairacres Priory, Oxford Micah 7:14-15, 18-20 & Matthew 12:46-50 Not The Family Kind + May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen. There’s a cartoonist called Jackie Fleming whose work I much admire. She has the reputation of a feminist, but beyond that label I see only a wry observation of the delightful twists and turns, inconsistencies, and paradoxes of modern life. One that comes to mind portrays a rather elegant woman, probably at a party, holding a glass of something cheerful, with a cat sidling up to her, rubbing itself against her legs. Clearly it is her own party, as her friend says to her, in that wonderfully patronising way some people have “is this your substitute for children?”, to which she replies in tones of such withering scorn that even though it is only a cartoon drawing, you can hear, “no, it’s a domestic cat”. “The family” is one of the most fascinating inventions of the Christian imagination. Of course, the laws of genetics dictate that we must all belong to other people – we can only be caused by two other people, and we have common heritage, if not necessarily common cause, with any others those people happen to cause. One of my enthusiasms is genealogy, and over the years I have had conversations with complete strangers with whom all I had in common was a shared ancestry – even to an eighth cousin, once removed (she was a marvellous cook). We lament when people turn up in bad families, or, like my Italian great-grandfather, who was a foundling, they have families they can never know. And yet families are a mixed bag. They include some of the closest and most loving, and yet sometimes also the most cruel and destructive, relationships in our world. Our blood relatives can potentially understand us best, from the gut, and also fail to understand us at all. Our Gospel passage this morning draws attention to this. Jesus’s mother and brothers appear, and they want to talk to him. One can only assume that he is some way from home, and they’ve put a bit of effort in to tracking him down and making the journey. He’s been teaching, and healing, and sorting out pesky demons on his way, so perhaps he left something of a trail. All they want is to “have a word”. They are his own flesh and blood – it would scarcely be so much as good manners or kindness to let them. But then he says this extraordinarily dismissive thing – “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” We tend to fast-forward from this bit to the end of the passage, but let’s listen to it for a moment. Here was a Jewish teacher, a rabbi, if a somewhat eccentric one, a member of one of the most family-minded cultures there can be, dismissing his own family ties as irrelevant. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Would Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, have put up with that from one of their sons? Would the wonderfully sentimental King David? But here is a member of their tribe, their house, their family, speaking as if to belong to a family is nothing, as if the ancient promises were made to the empty air. And then he turns it on its head – “Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother”. At a stroke, he creates a new family, not dependent on blood and kinship. In the kingdom of heaven there are to be no eighth cousins once removed, but one equal unity of obedience to the Father’s will. And dare we to hope that there will be a unity of love there too? If so, this is Good News indeed, for we have found a place where all our frailties are made good, all our breaking-downs mended. And maybe there’s even room for the occasional domestic cat. Richard Haggis Littlemore, Oxford July 2012


  1. It *is* sad when people feel they need to have children as a cat substitute.

  2. Love that Richard! And - considering the seismic row we had with KnA in the car on the way home from Jo n Mary Delfgou's wonderful anniversary party this weekend - a timely reminder. "Family" can be the source of the most life enhancing joy, and the most gut-wrenching pain... Hey Ho...