To coincide with the Year of the Family, which is being celebrated by churches across the globe, we look at our top ten family values and the Bible families that demonstrate them best.
The Bible doesn’t shy away from the rich and complex reality of family life, both the brokenness and the high calling of family (being part of God’s dream, joining him in building a world “where no one will feel alone.” (Amoris Laetitia 320)).
So we’ve uncovered the following ten values which seem to come up again and again among our Bible families. In each example, love is central to the story.
Adoption – The Holy Family (Matthew 1:18-25)
We start with our ultimate model of family. The family God provided for his own Son. A young woman of great faith and a just man who took on the role of adoptive father. Joseph’s adoption of Jesus plays a key role in the Holy Family.
What we know of Joseph’s life reveals the love and service towards others that comes with adoption. Joseph is protector of Mary and Jesus, and listens to God’s direction through his dreams to guide his family to safety (Matthew 2:13-15). From Joseph, Jesus would have learnt the importance of work and skills, and the stability that comes from a love between parents. It is also significant that through adoption into Joseph’s family, Jesus is born into the family line of King David and God’s promise that it will produce a Messiah who will bring into being God’s kingdom of Justice and peace.
Adoption is a wonderful life-giving gift, both for the adopted son or daughter and for the adopting parents. It is a beautiful parallel that just as Jesus, through adoption, shares Joseph’s family life so we through baptism, share the life of Jesus in the family of God.
Looking back to the Old Testament, we encounter an earlier Joseph and the dramatic story of him and his family. We hear of how Jacob had twelve sons but loved the young Joseph more than all the others and how the brothers jealous of this love sold their brother into slavery. Joseph goes on to endure years of suffering, he is sold, wrongfully imprisoned, and apparently forgotten. However, his story turns around when he is the only person that can reveal the meaning behind Pharaoh’s dream (with his special gift from God) and he is suddenly elevated to power and responsibility working for Pharaoh. Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers also seem to be suffering as a result of their actions, they endure terrible guilt as they witness the grief of their father day-after-day. The story has a happy ending though. Joseph is reunited with his brothers when they travel to Egypt during the famine to request grain. They do not recognise Joseph at first and so he is able to test them and discover that they are truly repentant for their past actions. Once he knows this, Joseph reveals himself and offers them his forgiveness and the family is reunited. This great story becomes the foundation story of the forming of the 12 tribes of Israel and the understanding that all families and states depend on mutual forgiveness and reconciliation.
Joseph’s father Jacob had his own experience of family drama. The intense rivalry between him and his twin brother Esau which almost ended in war. The Bible tells us that Jacob and Esau had been fighting since the womb. Rivalry among siblings can take many forms, it can be rivalry over academic excellence, sporting success or rivalry over a parent’s attention and praise. In this case, it was rivalry over their father’s blessing and inheritance. Jacob, though the younger brother, managed to deceive his blind father into giving him the blessing. Esau was furious and threatened to kill Jacob and so Jacob flees. Years later, Jacob is fearful when he hears that Esau is marching towards him with hundreds of men, he thinks that Esau is coming to fight him and so readies himself for a battle whilst also trying to appease his brother with gifts. Amazingly, Esau greets Jacob with a hug and not a fight. It is not clear why Esau greets Jacob peacefully. Perhaps because he has forgiven Jacob, or because he values reconciliation with his brother over winning the rivalry, or because he was pleased to receive the gifts from Jacob, or because God had moved his heart towards peace. God is the source of true peace (Leviticus 26:6; Psalm 29:11; John 14:27), he brings order and completeness out of chaos and offers us peace with him through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
Mercy – The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son reveals to us the love that God the Father has for us all. A selfish younger son asks for the inheritance he will receive when his father dies while his father is still alive. And the father who loves him gives it to him, but he soon squanders it all in reckless living. For a while, pride keeps him from seeking help from his family and he ends up working and living in a pig-sty. However, when he does return, he is welcomed back as a new son. His father, who has been waiting for him to come home, immediately shows his long lost son mercy and forgiveness. The brother is called to share in this welcome but appears bitter. The parable ends on a cliff hanger so we don’t know if the elder brother will be as joyful as their father is in their family’s reunion. The question hangs over us as to whether we who live in the mercy of God every day, show mercy to those who have strayed and returned needing welcome and forgiveness?
Hospitality – The widow and her son meet Elijah (1 Kings 17:7-16)
The story of this single mother and child’s life-transforming interaction with the great prophet Elijah started with a simple act of hospitality. The widow could have been too consumed with fear and grief for herself and her son to respond to Elijah when he asked for water. However, she extends hospitality sharing the last of her food, and Elijah responds through miraculously multiplying her flour and oil so that she never runs out during the famine. What’s even more wonderful about this story is that God knows this woman’s hospitable heart, because he tells Elijah that she will provide for him. God sees and knows our acts of hospitality when we welcome others into our family home, no matter how much or how little we have to share, it is always honoured and blessed by God.
Prayer – Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:25-38)
Often, it is those who are older in age who become the prayer warriors of our families and churches. When younger people tend to want everything in the here and now, older people can provide a long-term perspective, they are our living memory. They can set the example of faithful service, patience and trust in God’s promises. Simeon and Anna are two such people who are honoured in the Bible. Simeon is described as righteous and devout and Anna as someone who did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day. Both are present when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple as a new-born, and both recognise that in Jesus all of their prayers have been answered. How amazing it must have been for them, who had believed they would see this day, that their countless prayers and hopes had been answered and they could now die in peace. They remind us just how significant the prayers of our grandparents and all who are older in years are, and that we should always cherish them. This year Pope Francis has instituted a World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly and it will be held on the fourth Sunday of July in churches across the globe.
Belonging – The Church family (Ephesians 2:19-22)
There’s a deep desire in every one of us to belong. Unfortunately, that desire for belonging can sometimes be misplaced, either in persons or ways of looking at the world, but in Christ we are given the opportunity to belong not only to him but to one another through our adoption into God’s family. To belong to God’s family, at its core, is to follow Jesus’s two commandments to love God and one another (Mark 12:30-31), just as Jesus said ‘For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)
For some of us who don’t have families or have difficult relationships with family members, being part of God’s family means gaining a loving father (God), mother (Mary) and older brother (Jesus) and quite a few less than perfect church siblings!
Celebration – The Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11)
The wedding at Cana like a modern wedding drew together family and friends from far and wide. Celebrations and holidays are an opportunity to reconnect with family members and to thank God for his grace and generosity. It wouldn’t have been expected by the Jewish leaders at the time that the promised messiah’s first public miracle would involve turning water into wine at a wedding feast, but thankfully, Jesus’ concern for the wedding couple (and an arm twist from mum) reveals that God loves a joyful celebration. We are all invited to the heavenly banquet with all saints and sinners, called by God. Something of that joy should be in every Mass when we celebrate with Jesus the free meal of the family of God.
Hope – Mary, Martha, Lazarus and Jesus (John 11:1-44)
Grief and despair is something we all have to face at some point. Some of Jesus’ closest friends were the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and they experience a family tragedy when Lazarus dies. When Lazarus dies Jesus too experiences grief for a lost friend. It’s here that we read the shortest and possibly one of the most powerful verses in Scripture – ‘Jesus wept’. Mary and Martha both show their deep faith and hope in Jesus when they meet with him. Jesus seems to use the situation to show that not only can he prevent death, but he is ‘the resurrection and the life’ for all who believe when he raises Lazarus from the dead. In this incidence, we get a snapshot of the future hope that awaits us, when death will no longer separate us from our loved ones.
Loyalty – Ruth & Naomi (Book of Ruth)
This story seems very far removed from our modern day context, however, at its heart is a great example of loyalty between family members.
Ruth could have left her mother-in-law after the death of her husband, Naomi’s son; indeed Naomi suggests this and her other daughter-in-law chooses this option. However, Ruth chooses to stay by the side of her mother-in-law. If Ruth had chosen to leave, she could have remarried and started again. Yet, Naomi would have been left completely alone, as both her sons had died, and she had no other immediate family around her. At the time, the custom allowed for Ruth to marry a distant relative of Naomi’s and through him, she could provide an heir for her deceased first husband. This is the part that seems very strange to us nowadays, but is ultimately what happens for Ruth, and through this Naomi receives a grandchild and heir for her line. It also ends happily for Ruth as she finds a great husband in Boaz. God honours the generous loyalty of Ruth because she is now protected, and included in the genealogy line of King David, and later Jesus.