Word for the day by Christian Education Forum
The Social Vision of a God-fearing Family
The musical rendering of Psalm 128 in Malayalam - a beautiful melody, especially when sung by a choir - with its specific focus on family, is a popular number at wedding services in Kerala. There have been criticisms, however, in recent times on the appropriateness of this song for the occasion. The entire psalm is addressed to a man and his blessing is that “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.” (v. 3). Our vision of the family today, however, is one of a place where the members are guided by mutual respect, love and shared responsibilities; not one lording over another. In the American context especially, Indian women have long ceased to be “fruitful vine within your house,” but many spend long hours outside the home, often as the primary bread winners of the family, necessitating men to shoulder several of the traditional “woman’s chores” within the house. With regard to the children in the family too, we have rejected the Victorian norm of “children are to be seen and not heard”. Today, children’s voices are listened to and respected.
What is relevant for all times, however, is the cosmic vision of this psalm that links the well-being of the family to the well-being of the larger society. Our image of the “family” is often that of an exclusive community in which we work for our own prosperity. Some Biblical scholars have interpreted the choice of imagery in verse 2 (“You will eat the fruit of your labor; blessings and prosperity will be yours.”) as indicating that God’s blessing is that one should get enough to eat (and not unlimited food) and this should be the result of the work of his/her hands. According to Rabbi Malbim, this is a subtle indication that one should not desire too much wealth. Contrary to popular notion, the Bible does not conceive of a state of blessedness that is merely personal and private. “Prosperity theology”, so popular in our churches today, is clearly contrary to the principles of God.
Verses 5 and 6 extend this social vision to include a larger canvas in which the blessing on the family is closely linked to the well-being of the nation as well. God’s blessing is at different levels - individual, household and nation – and is extended from generation to generation. Accordingly, this short psalm has a thematic growth: it begins with a blessed nuclear family as the microcosm of the society but concludes with a grand vision in which God’s blessing transcends generations and brings peace upon the nation. It is the fulfillment of a life-cycle and faith-journey.
Prayer: Help me, O Lord, to meditate upon your Word with the prayer: what does this speak to me today?
Thought for the day: Whatever the diverse responsibilities are that the various members of the family have to bear from time to time and place to place, the commitment to bring out the best in each other needs to be our guiding principle.
Dr. Jesudas M. Athyal. Carmel MTC, Boston