Equality in Families

The Nazareth Page - A gospel meditation for your home

December 17, 2023 – Third Sunday of Advent-John 1:6-8,19-28

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I have spent over fifty years studying the ins and outs of family life. I have familiarized myself with its rich history, its cultural variations, its religious meaning, especially from an historical perspective, its role in the life of the church and its importance in human development, especially now in the Third Millennium. What I have learned is that the meaning and practices associated with family life are incredibly varied. Family life can be occasionally hurtful, even destructive of some or all its members. But it can also be a source of profound human goodness, and even great sanctity.

Some Christian communities, along with other religious groupings, have decided that there should be a certain hierarchy within the family. Many are along the lines of male superiority and authority over females and parents over children. This arrangement can create not only a master-slave type arrangement (always wrong), but it can also lead to serious lifelong damage to the human spirit. It can impede human growth, and I would add, stifle spiritual development. And it can be harmful to all family members whatever their position in the family.

As I reflected on today’s gospel, I found that the attitude of John the Baptist toward Jesus contains helpful guidance for the way some people experience family life as a kind of struggle for power.

People came to John the Baptist in hopes that he would help them. They saw in him a certain sacred or divine power. They wanted a leader with exceptional powers who could lead them to victory over their enemies. John saw their intent and did all he could to say that he was not exceptional. Someone would come after him and John felt that he was unworthy to even untie the sandal strap of Jesus. But there’s more to consider. Fast forward to the Last Supper.

Jesus has become the clear leader of a group of followers, some of whom were dining with him that evening. They found themselves in an argument over which of them was the greatest. (Like that old hierarchical thing mentioned above in family life.) Jesus called a time out and said something along the lines that actions speak louder than words.

He then proceeded to perform a common act assigned to servants. He washed their feet. This, he noted, was to be the kind of action that we are to do for each other. No one, in other words, is better than anyone else. We are all equal in all places and during all times. Family life included. I’ll let you figure out the rest.

David M. Thomas, PhD

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