Abba’s Da

Do you think Jesus would have celebrated Father’s Day? I’m betting he would and I think his take on it would be instructive for us. We don’t know what kind of relationship Jesus had with his father Joseph. It is pretty much agreed that Joseph died while Jesus was a teenager or a young adult. Joseph is present in the story of Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve (Luke 2:41-52), but not after that. When Jesus begins his public ministry, only Mary is referenced as his parent. It is unlikely that Joseph left the family and more likely that he died—either from age if he were an older man or from an accident or illness if he were a younger man. The bottom line is that he is really not in the picture outside of the Christmas story.

Regardless, Joseph’s absence from gospel accounts doesn’t give us a clue as to Jesus’ relationship with him. It may have been anywhere on the continuum from awesome to awful.

Some scholars try to get a clue from Jesus’ use of the Aramaic word “Abba” in reference to God which is most often translated as “Father” but which is much more of an enduring word along the lines of “Daddy”. Some argue that it gives us a clue as to how close Jesus was to Joseph. The idea is that he and Joseph were indeed very close and that upon Joseph’s death, Jesus replaced his nearness to Joseph with his nearness to God. God became his new “Abba”.

Others say, that sounds nice but the opposite could just as easily be true; that Jesus had such a terrible relationship with Joseph that he found a loving relationship with God instead. God was his “Abba” because Joseph wasn’t.

The truth is, either (or neither) of these scenarios could be true. We just don’t know.

And that’s okay because both of these possible relationships between Jesus and Joseph and the accompanying interpretations of Jesus’ use of “Abba” can be helpful on Father’s Day.

If you have or had a close, loving, empowering relationship with your father, it is easy to celebrate Father’s Day. A loving daddy can easily pave the way for finding God to have the same characteristics.

Not everyone has had such a relationship with their father, however. Father’s Day can be a difficult holiday for those who have or had a strained relationship with their father. Having an absentee father or, worse, an abusive father can also pave the way for finding God to have those characteristics.

If the latter is your history with your own father, it may be helpful to consider that Jesus may have experienced the same thing. And yet, at some point, he made a decision that his negative experience with his earthly father would not color a positive experience with his heavenly father. In fact, it could be argued that a terrible relationship between Jesus and Joseph may have been the catalyst for Jesus’ revolutionary way of relating to God—not as one who is judgmental, distant and angry, but as one who is approachable, loving, and validating.

It could even have been this change in approach, this choice on Jesus’ part, that gave us the Christian faith that we have today. Something to consider this Father’s Day.

See you in church,

–Rev. Dominic