Forgiveness and Family

family (2)  by Matt Gruber

One of the techniques of preaching is being able to exegete the culture around you and translate it to the Biblical narrative.  I tried that in the message on forgiveness and family.

Marshall Mathers III is a man, father, and artist shaped by his formative and adult circumstances.  The first 11 years of his life are documented as a transient time moving between St. Joseph, MO and Detroit.  Once he and his mother settled in Detroit his life was shaped by the dominant African-American neighborhood, the ongoing violence around him, and the culture of RAP and Hip Hop.  Although Mathers did not finish high school he was a student of the English language working diligently on the craft of rhyme.  He would get involved in the underground RAP scene in Detroit, participate in open-mike events and go to contests until he was finally brought to the attention of musician and producer, Dr. Dre.  Mathers emerged as a dominant white RAP artist in a music genre dominated by African-Americans.  Better known as Eminem and his alter ego Slim Shady, his music is vulgar, violent, and defamed a number of people – including his own family.  He has been sued by multiple members of his family for the negative way in which he has portrayed them in his music.  It is his vehicle to communicate what he is feeling and what he thinks about members of his own family.

Have you ever noticed that in families many of our conflicts are often over things we have said or done or things we have not said or done?  Expectations, promises or demands that we fulfill or do not fulfill become anger, bitterness, rage, and harsh words.  These are the weapons we use to battle with our family members but they aren’t the only ones.

A long time friend of mine uses a different weapon.  Whenever his wife or his daughter did something that he disagreed with he would go silent.  He would not say a word – literally.  I remember that he went almost three months one time without saying a word to his wife because he was mad at her for something – I doubt at the end of that three months he even knew what he was mad about.  None of us lives under a rock so this may be a rhetorical question, but how many of you have had conflict in your family?  Within your own home?  With your parents or siblings?  Maybe with someone who is your extended family?  Do you remember what it is that you are in conflict over?

The commentators for the Gospel According to Luke note that in our labeling of pericopes in the scriptures we have misnamed one of them.  The parable of the Prodigal Son is not a story about one wayward boy; it is a story about all three characters.  They suggest that a more appropriate title might be “A man and his two sons.”

The young son I’ve blogged about (see Forgiveness and Intimacy).  We know that he disrespected his father by pre-maturely asking for his inheritance.  Actually he is telling his father that he wishes he were dead so he could inherit his third of the estate.  And then he goes off and squanders everything.  We know about the father as well – a man who gave in to his son’s request by dividing the property.  And then he stood at the city gates waiting for the return of his lost son.  One day he spots him, hikes up his robe and runs to meet him on the road, welcomes him home, restores him to his position as a son, and throws a lavish party for the whole town to come and celebrate his return.  The one we’ve not considered until now is the elder son.

Coming in from the fields the elder son notices that a party is going on in his father’s house.  Obviously surprised by this he asks a servant what is going on.  The servant tells him that his younger brother has returned home and their father has killed the fattened calf so that they could celebrate the occasion.

One response could be that the elder son drop everything, run into the house and throw his arms around his brother to welcome him home.  Then he could join in the celebration with his father and the community to rejoice over the lost brother who is now found.

But that wasn’t his response – the elder brother got angry and refused to join the party.  But think for a moment – the elder son got angry with his father.

1)  The father welcomed the wayward younger son home without punishment – no public whipping or shaming.

2)  The father welcomed the prodigal home without forcing him to restore the property that he had squandered

The elder son also resented his father.

1)  Since the father had divided the property, the elder son inherited at the same time as the younger son.  The calf that his father killed for the celebration came from the elder son’s portion.

2) The elder son felt slighted that the father had not recognized his loyalty and hard work – I’ve slaved away for you but you have not event given me so much as a goat for me to party with my friends.

And the elder son disrespected his father.

1)  Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not chase their sons – they did not run down the road after them; the father had to chase his elder son begging him to enter the party

2)  And by the elder son refusing to come in he forced his father to break his social responsibilities to his guests.

Actually both sons missed the point – they both disrespected his father

1)  the younger son saw his father only for the property he would inherit

2)  the elder son saw his father as a taskmaster to be served dutifully, out of obligation

NEITHER of them saw their father and the blessing of their relationship with him.

I wonder if we find ourselves missing out on the blessings of a mutual and loving relationship.  Do we view our family members solely from the perspective of what we can gain from them or what they can do for you?

The father in the story is the archetype of forgiveness – a man who was solely concerned with the relationship he had with his two sons and their relationship with one another.  The father’s desire was that forgiveness be the tool that healed and restored the family.  The opposite brought division and pain.

So how do we employ the tool of forgiveness in our families?

Adam Hamilton in his book “Forgiveness” suggest three steps:

1)  Remember your own shortcomings – be mindful of your own imperfections

2)  Assume the best instead of focusing on the negatives

3)  Pray for God’s blessings for the other

I like Paul’s words in I Corinthians – he talks about the presence and power of love and beginning in the 14th chapter he encourages us to “let love be your highest goal.”

Forgiveness is a tool of love – if we say that we love one another then we must be forgiving of one another.  I actually believe that forgiveness is a lot less painful than the alternative.

Blessings for the journey.

About Jim Hoffman

Pastor, teacher, leader, novice blogger, wanna be author and Christian conversationalist. Passionate about environmental architecture - creating spaces where people can foster new or growing relationships with each other and God. Currently leads a faith community on Ward Parkway in Kansas City and happily married to Margaret. Blessed with four adult children and two grandsons.
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