Family Functions


You may remember the Maytag repairman, the self-declared “lord of loneliness,” and “sultan of solitude.” In a long series of commercials we came to know this solitary figure, ever ready to serve, but never called upon. Maytag appliances, we are led to believe, are built well; so well, in fact, that they never need maintenance or repair. As a result, their repairmen lead lonesome lives. This also means that in the (unlikely) event that something should go wrong, help is readily available. Maytag appliances are dependable; their assistance is reliable. The consumer is consoled to know that they can get help if they need it. For if we need something fixed, our best bet is to bring it back to the one who made it.

Our scriptures this weekend focus upon God as the author of the family. In a sense, he is the manufacturer. We see this most clearly with Abraham, Sarah and Isaac. Through divine intervention, Sarah is able to conceive despite her old age. Given their advanced years, there could be no doubt that God formed this family. He is the one who put it together. He would also be the repairman. Unlike appliances, families need constant attention. Families need their manufacturer at their side. His commandments are the owner’s manual. His directions keep things running smoothly. But when things do break down (it happens even to Maytag) he is there with mercy and healing. Very easily he puts things back together again, often making things even better than they were before.

The first family breakdown happened in the Garden of Eden. It started with selfishness and pride, hiding themselves from God. They turned away from the repairman. They rejected the manufacturer’s directions. It didn’t work out too well for Adam and Eve. It certainly didn’t work out for Cain and Abel. Families have experienced dysfunction ever since. The history of salvation is a history of the repairman at work. He has been repairing not just the person, but the family as well. When we arrive at the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary and Joseph), we find the family restored. They are all united in obedience to the Father (something lacking in the first family). That is how we find the Holy Family this Sunday, gathered in the temple, fulfilling “all the prescriptions of the Law of the Lord.”

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina begins this way: “happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I don’t think this is true. Every unhappy family is unhappy in the same way, or at least for the same reason. They’ve ignored the manufacturer. It has been a long time since they’ve collectively called on the repairman.