The Ancient Parenting Bible

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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Christ Blessing the Children, c. 1545-1550. Oil on beech wood, 6.5 x 8.75 inches. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

This is a six-week series on parents and children in the Bible. How do these ancient texts give us insight into our roles as parents today?

We will begin with Moses’s instructions to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, as they are about to pass into the promised land. The week after that, we will look at the 127th Psalm, a reflection on how exactly children are a blessing. After that, we will have four weeks of passages from the Gospels, in which Jesus encounters children and we see how he responds to them.

The goal of this class is for each of us to grow spiritually, within our own families and through discussions in our small group community of Sunday mornings.

Here is the six-part outline of the class. Click on each one for a page with full discussion of the topic.

At the bottom of this page is a link to a set of resources for further reading.

1. September 17th:  “But why?”

The Knesset Menorah

In the book of Deuteronomy, as the Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land, their fearless leader Moses, who will not be going there with them, offers a series of deathbed sermons: his last will and testament. In the sixth chapter of the book, Moses foresees that the Israelites’ children will be bothering them with questions: Mom, Dad, why are we doing all these things as part of our religion?

Moses tells them how to answer. His answer, however, does not begin with “Because God said so…” 
Read more…

2. September 24th: The bread of anxious toil

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
The Tres Riches Heures of the Duc du Berry

Psalm 127 is considered a “wisdom psalm”; that is, one that engages in reflection on “how the world works,” similarly to the Wisdom books of Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. This short psalm is focused on the topic of the “house,” which can refer to a literal house, that is, a home; or to the house of God; that is, the Temple in Jerusalem; or to a lineage, that is, a family or clan.

As we bear the heavy responsibilities of our own house and family, the psalm shows us how to avoid two opposite errors. The first mistake is to think: “Well, God’s in charge, so no big deal, I’m just going to kick back.” And the second mistake is to think: “Unless I have everything covered and do it perfectly, it’s all going to collapse and it will be all my fault.” 
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3. October 1st: Get up, kiddo!

Paolo Veronese

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is met by a man named Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, who pleads with Jesus to come lay hands on his daughter to save her life. It’s a very urgent request. The girl is at the point of death. There’s no time to waste. The clock is ticking. So Jesus agrees to come see the girl. But first, Jesus stops to engage in an entirely different conversation with a different woman.

What on earth is he doing? Isn’t he aware of the urgency of the situation with Jairus’s daughter? How can he be taking his time like this? As the minutes tick by, and Jesus is still talking to the other woman, word comes to Jairus: Your daughter is dead.
Read more…

4. October 8th: Hate your mom and dad?

In Luke’s gospel, as Jesus is walking along, accompanied by a large multitude, he stops to state clearly to them the cost of discipleship; that is, what’s entailed in truly following him. Is the kingdom of God simply one good thing among many, that fits comfortably among all the other good things that life has to offer? No, Jesus says, it’s not like that at all. To follow him entails making discipleship a priority above everything else — above your father and mother, spouse and children, brothers and sisters, and even your own life. You need to be ready, Jesus says, to “take up your cross.”

That is what the German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his 1937 book, The Cost of Discipleship, as Bonhoeffer’s criticism of the Nazi government placed him at great risk. Eight years later, Bonhoeffer was dead, hanged in a concentration camp. What gave his faith such strength?
Read more…

5. October 15th: Whose kingdom is it?

Nicolaes Maes

As parents, as adults and as Americans, we are very familiar with the truth that good things come to those who work for them. A good job, a good family, a good house in a good neighborhood with good schools, a good reputation — in fact, health, wealth, and happiness in general — all of these are typically the result of diligent and determined effort. If this is the rule of good things, then the Kingdom of God, which is the best thing of all, must follow a similar rule. Right? The Kingdom of God is a place for those who are the best Christians — the most morally pure, the most holy, the most “good Christian” people, wearing robes, strumming harps, sitting on clouds and basking in each others’ outstanding levels of holiness… Right?

No. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’s disciples are bothered that Jesus is being distracted from his very important teaching by being asked to kiss babies. Why, they ask, is our master’s time being wasted with this? There’s a hierarchy of importance, and surely Jesus has better things to do than to dandle unruly, messy, noisy babies, who are at the bottom of the social scale. Right?

No. He rebukes them: It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it. That is: God gives us the kingdom as a parent gives a kid a bottle or a diaper: as an act of pure generous grace to someone in need, not upon the basis of merit or achievement.
Read more…

6. October 22nd: It’s All Our Fault

Annibale Carracci

In John’s gospel, Jesus, walking along, encounters a man who had been blind from birth. The first question that Jesus’ disciples ask him is a very human one: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Who sinned? The disciples want to be reassured of the regularity and predictability of the moral universe — you might call it karma — that suffering makes sense on an individual level. If someone is in a car crash: Were they wearing seat belts? If someone has lung cancer: Were they a smoker?  Et cetera. We want to know that the suffering makes sense, and whom to blame.

Needless to say, the same applies — as in this very story of Jesus — in the case of parenting. Is our child struggling in school? Not making friends? Developing bad habits? Unpopular? Unhealthy? Whose fault is it?  Is it the kid’s fault, or our fault, or… Who sinned?  But, in this story, Jesus’ answer is unsurprisingly surprising: “Neither…”
Read more…

Further Reading

Materials for further reading are available on the resources page.
(The password for the resource page is the five-letter word in asterisks >> The name of our church is Saint ***** )

Christ Blessing the Little Children 1799 by William Blake 1757-1827
William Blake, Christ Blessing the Little Children, 1799. Tempera on canvas, 26 x 37.5 cm. Tate Britain