Fifty-seven of the 650 members of the recently dissolved House of Commons are related to current or former MPs.
I learnt this interesting fact from the lead article in this morning’s Economist, which examines “the power of families.” It seems probable that next year’s presidential race will be between another Clinton and another Bush. “Power families and dynasties are here to stay,’ concludes this worthy journal.
And it does seem to be the case that many families have an enduring culture. You have families where everyone seems to be a medic or in my own family, a vicar. Jimmie our excellent gravedigger – a precise and exacting profession – comes from a family of er, gravediggers.
“More than 90% of the world’s businesses are family-managed or -controlled, including some of the biggest, such as News Corp and Volkswagen,’ the Economist observes. “In the emerging world the preponderance of family control is greater still.”
And the conclusion? “Family power, like any other sort, needs watching over. If it cannot be contested, it should not be welcome.”
At first sight the Bible seems to endorse family life as foundation for our well being, witness the lists of “begets” which appear in its pages.
Matthew even leads his Gospel, the first 17 verses with “the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Most of us start reading at verse 18 without realising how subversive his message is.
So God’s purpose to bring healing to a wayward world begins with his call of Abraham. “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3).
Family life is important for our wellbeing. So the apostle Paul takes time to counsel these new Christians in the life of their households, the equivalent of our wider family.
So he writes to Timothy: “Servants in the church are to be committed to their spouses, attentive to their own children, and diligent in looking after their own affairs.” (1 Timothy 3:12 Message translation).
So is that it? Family life, to quote the ever quotable George Bernard Shaw. “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.”
Well, not altogether. It is Jesus himself who brings a new and revolutionary understanding of the family.
His ministry is gaining momentum, his reputation is spreading fast. And his family’s reaction? It is Mark who is the most blunt: When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3:21)
And so they try and pull him out of his meeting. “A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.’” They clearly care for him. Good folk, they want to take him home and nurse him to his right mind.
Jesus’ reply is a stunner. ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!
His conclusion: “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus redefines the family – not a closed shop but an open, welcoming community of love and faith. There can be no disciple without a family – we belong to the household of faith.
And there is the tension: our priority is to do what God wants – and that may cause problems, witness Jesus’ genealogy which includes so many outsiders, those who did not belong.
But families are not redundant, just radically redefined.
Our mission partner in northern Argentina is Andrew Leake (“Good morning, Andrew! This will wake you up). Andrew is the third generation of his family selflessly serving the people of Argentina – family ministry at its very best.
His father David was Assistant Bishop of Northern Argentina from 1969 to 1989 following the lead from his father Alfred Leake who began this ministry in 1930.
But is was Alfred who made the momentous decision to leave his small village in Norfolk to travel to Argentina which in those days was on the other side of the world. It can’t have been easy for his parents and siblings. Letters took three months before an immediate reply.
But like Abraham, he left for the promised land – which happened to be in the southern hemisphere. God’s family, as a result, was extended and enriched by his selfless step of faith.
And for us? “Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) There lies the check the Economist is searching for!