In this series we’ve been learning that subversion means to “turn from beneath” or to undermine the authority of an institution. Subversion presupposes a radical change in power, but too often our only framework for a change in power is to overpower something by might. We look at subversion because the gospel is subversive.
Subversion overpowers not by might. It’s not a display of power, it’s a transfer of power. As we saw last week, the path isn’t to go around, it’s going through then rising up. The gospel is the repatriation of personal power of which institutions lay claim. Thus entering the kingdom of God is not merely an event after we die as it’s commonly taught. Rather it’s following the voice of truth out from over-identification with institutional power into the exile of a new identity and personal freedom (Isaiah 61:1-3, Luke 4:18).
One could subvert the institution of education by truancy, or by graduation. Truancy leaves you with none of the benefit of the institution, while graduation allows you to extract everything from the institution prior to leaving. Through this lens we can see how mere opposition or rebellion doesn’t take us to a new level, while transcending and including takes us beyond the institution itself. This is the framework of the kingdom that Jesus promoted.
You might think subverting the family sounds wrong, but it’s actually the design. Every adult was born into some institution that enabled us to survive. Some were barely able or willing to take care of our physical needs, others were loving, nurturing and empowering. At some point every bird needs to leave the nest. It’s tragic when children leave to early or when adults stay too long.
Jesus reveals the architecture of his subversive plan:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:34-39
In other words, family is fine, important, and necessary, but it’s not the most important thing there is. If we under-identify or over-identify with our family, it’s impossible to find our true identity in God. The power of a family to imprison people cannot be understated. Most people destroy relationships and their lives because they cannot rightly leave their family. Scripture tells us the design is to leave and cleave (Mark 10:6-8). If we get this right, the family is a springboard for abundant life, get it wrong and it’s bear trap around our ankle or worse.
I’m sure Jesus’ parents were initially confused when he transcended the need to differentiate his family of origin from the greater family of all others.
“And his mother and his brothers came, and standing outside they sent to him and called him. And a crowd was sitting around him, and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are outside, seeking you.” And he answered them, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking about at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:31-35
Let’s think about our own family dynamics. If the gravitational pull is too strong, then we will live in a prison that allows the institution of family to control our life. We tolerate horrible things and behave at low levels all in the name of “family.” If the gravity is too weak, we lack the connective fibers that allow us be vulnerable and available for deep friendship or love. In both cases we forfeit life for the sake of the institution. We trade who we really are for the pseudonym offered by “the family.“
The Gospel of the kingdom calls us out. Heaven is not a place we go to escape the prison of family after we die, it’s the place we live from that allows us to live in liberty along side of those we call family. I can’t count how many Christians who say they believe the gospel but have never experienced its power to free them from family. I believe much of modern Christianity has made an idol out of the institution of the family.
The gospel is the power to subvert the family by going through and rising up from it. Those who break free of its institutional grasp are the only ones free and powerful enough to pull others in their family up to greener pastures. The subversive gospel keeps us from being lulled back to sleep by the anesthesia of family drama.
Does this idea of subverting the family seem threatening to you? If so, you may have gained your identity or personal power from the institution of family or the family has made you a dependent. You’ll need a transfer of power if you are ever to leave and find yourself. Only by gaining the power to leave, will you gain the power stay and be helpful.
It’s a scary proposition at first, but if we follow the voice of liberation we’ll discover that the family we gain by leaving is much greater than the family we leave.