Monday, February 6, 2012

Jesus and the Rise of a new Fatherhood

It's rarely spoken about, but one of the undercurrents in the Gospels is the way that Jesus heals broken fatherhood. He heals all creation, but in a particular way, he comes to heal our image of fathers and fatherhood. "When you see me, you see the Father," he says in the gospel of John.

But look how clearly and strikingly the readings from Mass a few days back make this point: Mark 5:21-43, and 2 Sam 18.

Jairus, the synagogue official, implores Jesus to heal his daughter who is on the point of death. There is no indication that Jairus is a bad father at all; in fact he seems to be doing all he can to help her. But that's just the point: earthly fathers alone cannot provide what human beings really need, no matter how good they are. Jairus cannot save his daughter from death, even a young death. Jesus responds by going off with him to help her, to provide what this good-willed father cannot provide on his own: life.

On the way, Jesus meets another hidden crisis of fatherhood. A woman who had a hemorrhage meets him. Mark tells us she had suffered greatly at the hand of many doctors and had spent all she had. But she only got worse. Though the text doesn't tell us explicitly, there is an implicit judgment we might draw: where was her father? Why was she pouring her resources and not him? She is apparently alone and growing destitute and hopeless on her own. Her father could not protect her from illness and social stigma and poverty. Maybe he tried his best, maybe not; but he is not there. He's gone. She's alone. If this theme of fatherhood seems a stretch, simply hear what Jesus calls her when he finally lays eyes on her: "Daughter." In touching his cloak, she touches the power and love of a Father who loves her. And she is healed.

But during this delay along the way, it seems that Jesus has failed as a substitute father to Jairus' daughter. The report comes that she had died. It seems as though Jesus claim to simply heal the girl and restore her to her father is ridiculous. The crowd laughs at him and mocks him. After all, too much damage is done, too much water under the bridge. He ignores the nay-sayers and proclaims, "The child is not dead but asleep." Even physical death does not put the girl outside of his fatherly care, though she is out of the reach of Jairus.

Jesus remarkably takes on the role of the father of the house: he tells certain people to leave the house, guides the parents (it is their house!) through the house to the girl's room, and takes the child by the hand. She arose immediately. His fatherly providence continues, telling them to give her something to eat. While he restores the parents to their role in the girls life, it is clear that Jesus brings a fatherly identity and power with greater authority than that of natural parents and even the forces of nature.

How often do we think of Jesus as a father? Recall that he is called the "son of David" on several occasions. David himself was a father whose love for his son was stronger than even the most heinous betrayals. When his rebellious and treasonous son Absolom is finally killed, David cries out, "My son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you, Absalom, my son, my son!" If this is true of David, how much more true is it of Christ, who consummates the desire we see in David's heart, to die for his beloved child on the Cross?

Especially for us men--whether fathers physically or spiritually, directly or indirectly--we can find great strength knowing that Jesus opens up for us a great hope: he is fatherhood healed of all brokenness, neglect, and selfishness. We men are hard-wired to give and protect life, but this can seem to daunting to commit to for a lifetime, or, given our own weaknesses even for a week, sometimes. But Jesus comes to undo the fall, and this includes the fall of the first father. He gives life and protects us in His Church. He can teach us how, too.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, this example of Jesus' fatherly nature is a true blessing! I'm very pleased to become a blogger, and ecstatic in being user "89." That number has a special significance I'd love to explain someday, perhaps over a meal in my home.

    User 89