Jesus and cultural values : family life as an example

20 Feb 2012

'Family values' is a set of traditional images that most cultures collect, images drawn mostly from an idealized picture of family life in the recent past. For Christians, the popular image of Jesus gets included: the Holy Family as a nuclear family unit, Jesus blessing children, Jesus as advocate of traditional family life. A closer reading of both contemporary family life and the Gospels reveals that things are not what they seem. Contemporary family life in Western societies is structured quite differently than the ideal. Jesus' family life was spent in a peasant village surrounded by relatives and neighbours, with little privacy and strong social pressure towards conformity. The gospel records indicate that he did not conform, and paid the price: rejection and misunderstanding by his extended family. The Synoptic Gospels consistently portray not only an estrangement between Jesus and his family, but Jesus' encouragement of his disciples to break family ties in favour of the surrogate family of the circle of disciples. In a culture in which kinship loyalty was essential, this message caused deep problems for early Christians which the authors of the household codes of Ephesians, Colossians, the Pastoral Epistles, and 1 Peter tried to alleviate.