A man and his wife were arguing about family members. “It’s just not right”, the wife said. “You don’t like anybody in my family!”
“That’s not true,” replied the husband. “I like your mother-in-law much better than my mother-in-law.”
A household item often at the centre of family conflict is the telephone.
A teenage girl had been talking on the phone for about half an hour, and then she hung up. “Wow!” said her father rather sarcastically, “That was short. You usually talk for two hours. What happened?”
“Wrong number,” replied the girl.
If you have watched the TV news programs recently you will have heard about the trouble in families between teens and their parents. Or perhaps you have seen Super Nanny and again seen the battles that take place in the home. No home is exempt from these battles – some may have more than another – but where people live closely together there is bound to be conflict.
Someone once said, “Who can ever forget Winston Churchill’s immortal words: “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills.” That sounds exactly like our family holiday.”
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The Bible tells of numerous families that were in trouble. Right in the early chapters of the first book of the Bible we hear how God had trouble with his children. He created Adam and Eve and told them not to eat the fruit from a particular tree. And of course, when we are told not to do something there is an even greater temptation to do precisely what we are told not to do. And that’s what happened to Adam and Eve. When they were found out, they started arguing and blaming each other for disobeying God and eating the fruit they were told specifically not to touch.
Then immediately afterwards, we hear of their two boys, Cain and Abel, one couldn’t stand the other.
And what about the twin boys, Jacob and Esau? Jacob cheated his brother out of his inheritance and then had to go interstate for fear of his life.
There is also the story of how a large family of brothers ganged up on Joseph, their spoilt younger brother. Because he was their father’s favourite, they wanted to kill him but instead sold him as a slave. The Bible is full of stories about families in strife.
Today we heard about another family in trouble. King David was having trouble with his third son, Absalom. Absalom was too good looking for his own good. He had a magnificent head of hair that he trimmed once a year. He was spoilt rotten by his father, David.
Let me give you a sketch of what kind of trouble was brewing in David’s home. Amnon, David’s eldest son was infatuated with his half-sister Tamar and raped her. Absalom was outraged and set out to get revenge. He threw a party to which the royal sons were invited and when Amnon was drunk, Absalom ordered his servants to kill the heir to David’s throne.
If that wasn’t enough for David to contend with, Absalom then set his eyes on overthrowing David as king and putting himself on the throne. Absalom gathered a large army and King David was forced to flee from Jerusalem, the capital of David’s kingdom. As you can imagine David was heart broken that one his own sons would turn against him and seek to kill him.
However, David had a large number of loyal followers and soon he had an army of considerable strength under the command of one his generals, Joab. The king gave Joab a special instruction not to hurt Absalom. David was still Absalom’s father and was ready to forgive his rebellious son.
The young pretender’s army was utterly defeated and as Absalom was escaping his head was wedged in the forked branches of a tree. Joab made sure that Absalom caused no further trouble by killing him. This added to David’s troubles. He “was much moved, and went up to the room over the gate, and wept. As he went, he said, ‘My son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! I wish I had died for you, Absalom, my son, my son!'”
“Absalom! Absalom!” King David cries.
His wail echoes down the centuries in every family tragedy, in every parent full of regret for what might have been but is not, in every parent whose love, whose dreams and sacrifice have been squandered or rejected by an ungrateful child.
David’s cry of grief and heartache is echoed in those families where husbands and wives grieve over the failure of their marriage.
David’s weeping is echoed in those homes where children have rebelled against their families.
David’s misery and sorrow is echoed in the cry of a husband, or wife, or child who has been hurt again and again, and the pain is carried with them forever.
Our families today are no different to those described in the Bible. It’s true we may not have some of the extreme situations that biblical families experienced, but still sin plays a major part in causing unhappiness in our family life today. It doesn’t matter whether your family consists of parents and young children or teens, or just husband and wife, or your family is grown up and you have grand children perhaps great grandchildren. Families still experience the same kind of attacks from Satan as they did in ancient times. You still find jealousy, misunderstanding, spoilt children, poor discipline, hatred, disagreement, arguments, hurtfulness, deceitfulness, and a lack of openness and honesty among members of families today just as all these were evident in the families of the Bible.
In many ways we can say that civilisation has come a long way and that we have many modern conveniences that were absolutely unheard of in biblical times. So many things have changed in the world that if King David would come back today he would wonder if he had come back to another planet other than earth. There would be so little that would be familiar. But there is one thing that he would recognise immediately, that is, the sin that has infected our families. He would see that the same sins that brought so much grief to him and his family are still corrupting family life today.
So the story of David ends with deep regret, with a father crying alone in his room into the night in grief over his son, over the sad state of his family, over the high cost of fulfilling his royal responsibilities.
This tragic story hasn’t been included in the Bible to tell us some kind of moral about family life like – beware of spoiling your children because one day they will turn against you. Rather, I think we are to see ourselves in this story. In any family, even the best of them, there is always some regret. Things don’t always work out for the best. Children disappoint us. Parents don’t act as they should. Husband and wives don’t care enough for each other and forgive one another. Children behave selfishly.
In fact, I’m glad this story is in the Bible because it lets us know that unhappiness, tragedy, regret are part of living in a family. It was true for King David; it is true at your house and mine. But the sad story of David’s family ends with little resolved and with David’s heart broken because of what happened to his family. What are we to do when we are hurt by what happens in our families?
A long time after Absalom’s untimely death there was a cross raised outside his father’s city, Jerusalem. On the cross was another son, dying there not because of his rebellion against his father, but rather because of our rebellion. Here a father, our heavenly Father is giving us everything we need, even if it meant allowing his son to die. On the cross, he won forgiveness for us – a pardon for all that we do in our families to bring pain and hurt to one another. The cross doesn’t erase the seriousness of the evils we commit and the hurt caused by members of their family, the consequences may continue on. For instance, when Absalom had his brother murdered, nothing could undo this act and nothing could dissolve David’s grief for his dead son.
The great thing about the cross is that we are assured that we are still God’s beloved children.
We are assured that our wrongs will no longer be held against us, that the rifts between God and us, between members of the same family, have been healed.
The cross of Jesus assures those who are members of God’s family – the church – that when there is a falling out God is able to forgive us wants us to do the same with those in our church family.
The cross of Jesus promises that we can have a fresh start – we have been new and clean by the blood of Jesus.
David said that he would have given his life to save his son from death. But even kings can’t do that. It takes God to do that. At Calvary, on the cross, God’s whole, tragic human family was gathered, embraced, saved by a Father who loves us his children dearly.
Likewise, God wants us, his forgiven and pardoned people, to forgive and pardon members of our families when we are hurt. There can be no doubt that daily we mistreat members of our own family. We might think, “They’re only family, that won’t hurt” and so pass off any offence and failure on our part as of no consequence.
But it does matter. It matters because it isn’t just some fluke of nature that you have a family. It is part of God’s plan for your life. Your family is important to you. It doesn’t take much effort to let barriers build up between members of the family, between husband and wife, between parents and children, between grandparents and grandchildren, and so on. It happens so easily. And it happens too often that our pride will not let us take the first step in tearing down those walls and open up the communication of love and forgiveness between us.
It does matter when hurtful things are said and done in your family. Not only are parents and children members of our earthly family, they are also members of God’s family. They have been baptised and adopted as God’s people. You share the same heavenly Father, the same Saviour and the same forgiveness and love that he gives us.
The prayer of St Francis is an excellent one for parents and children, grandparents and grandchildren who are seeking God’s help in this whole business of making family life happy through caring for one another, and making the forgiveness of God a reality in the activities of everyday.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2006, Vince Gerhardy. Used by permission.