I WAS MINDING MY OWN BUSINESS, proofing my work on the Gospel of Matthew paraphrase for the Casual English Bible, when I tripped over a surprising Bible verse.
I paraphrased Jesus putting it this way,
“If people want to find their own worst enemies, they won’t have to look any further than their own family” (Matthew 10:36, Casual English Bible).
Jesus borrowed those words from an Old Testament prophet, Micah 7:6,
“Your enemies are right in your own household” (New Living Translation).
Micah was talking about some kind of judgment day, perhaps the Big One.
But Jesus applied it to his day, too.
He set up that verse by saying,
“Don’t get the idea I came here to bring peace. I didn’t bring peace. I brought fighting. Because of me, a son will turn against his dad, a daughter against her mom, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:34-35, Casual English Bible).
In his day, some Jews would leave their faith to embrace what would become known as Christianity. That would break the hearts of their tradition-devoted Jewish moms and dads and brothers and sisters.
When Romans branded Christianity as illegal, about 35 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, some family members turned in their Christian relatives. They did it knowing full well that Romans sometimes executed Christians, depending on the emperor of the moment.
Our first thought might be, “How could someone do that to a close relative?”
But our second thought might be, “I have a relative…”
That relative is either someone who would turn us in to the officials. Or they’re someone we’d be tempted to turn in—though, of course, we wouldn’t do it because we’re good people most of the time.
But there are those moments when we’d like to be bad enough to do it.
Families are complicated. We hear that all the time. Because it’s true.
We love some relatives strangely. It’s strange because we don’t like being around them. And we sometimes wonder if we really do love them or if we only want to love them, but can’t admit that we don’t.
Maybe the relationship is complicated because the relative constantly belittles us, in ways subdued or bulldozed.
Or perhaps they shoplift when they visit us, so we can’t take our eyes off of them and we empty the bathroom of valuables before they visit.
Or maybe they constantly brag about themselves with lies, and we can’t shut them the heck up by diverting them to another topic that has nothing to do with them. As it turns out, every topic has something to do with them.
Yet we’re related, and we’re drawn to them—or want to be.
Granted, some relatives become so toxic to us that we have to sever the relationship, at least temporarily, until the poison is neutralized. If that ever happens.
Jesus said Christianity would start wars in the family.
He didn’t give us a peace plan. He gave us a warning. War was coming home to roost.
His warning is timeless, it seems.
We still fight family battles over religion.
We argue, too, over politics (especially these days).
We fight over money and family heirlooms. We even fight for bragging rights over football and baseball and basketball games we never played, but merely watched on TV.
Miller’s peace plan
Let me suggest what Jesus didn’t. It’s a peace plan for dealing with explosive relatives.
Here’s the plan: Miller’s Doctrine of Elbow Room.
Some family members are a blast. Nuclear. The bigger the blast radius, the more elbow room.
Sure, it’s a great idea to talk through the problem when it’s possible. But Jesus didn’t give his followers any hope for talking their way out of the problems they were going to have by becoming Christians.
We face the same kind of hopelessness in our families in other ways, and for many reasons.
When we can’t solve a problem through discussion and prayer, the next best step might be to watch our mouth. It couldn’t hurt.
But that’s hard to do because “the tongue is a flame, set on fire by hell itself. The tongue is a wicked world all its own grafted into the world of our body. It corrupts every part of our body and sets our life on fire,” (James 3:6 Casual English Bible).
The tongue is hard to control, especially when we’re around certain family members.
A fallback plan is to fall back. Just back away. Slowly. Unnoticeably if possible. Then, when you’re at a fair distance away, turn and run like Granny’s calling you for biscuits and gravy.
If you’ve got any other peace plans that don’t involve illegal drugs or committing a felony, I’d like to hear them. Just post them in a comment box so we can all benefit from your experience, wisdom, or mistakes.