Luke 1:17 NIVAnd he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
According to Luke, John was a man who, like Elijah, was great in the eyes of the Lord. Luke lists a number of things which would mark John out as “great in God’s eyes.” He would turn people back to God (verse 16), he would turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous (verse 17). But sandwiched between these two activities is this interesting phrase, “to turn the hearts of the parents to the children.”
This has got me thinking. Was John somehow involved in encouraging people in this area? There are no recorded sermons of John where he exhorts his listeners to love their children. He certainly challenged people to repent of their sins, but was he also a family therapist, a first century parenting expert? And was this one of the things that made him “great”? Certainly this little reference in Luke’s gospel is a huge affirmation to any involved in such ministries.
More than just telling us something about John, I think this verse tells us something important about God. God is often called Father: Jesus is his son. The relationship between them stands at the very centre of the whole narrative of the Bible. God sent his son into the world. He directed him. He sustained him. He gave him the strength to do the things he had to do in the world. He listened to his struggles, his complaints, his cried for help. He promised his continuing support and protection. He loved Jesus fiercely.
As parents love their children they imitate the heart of God, they come closer to the Father. If we encourage people to love their children, then we are moving them closer to God, we are preparing them for the coming of the Lord.
But do we really need to encourage people to love their children? Isn’t it just human nature to love one’s own offspring? Isn’t it instinctual, natural, presupposed? Surely we don’t need anyone to tell them how important it is. Isn’t love for children the norm?
Sadly, it is not. Any who work in healthcare know that this is not always the case. Certainly most people love their children, but things go wrong, and any who listen to people learn quickly that one of the biggest sources of suffering and sadness in our world is inadequate parenting. One of the tasks God gives us when we choose to follow him is to be the best parents we can be, to learn from God our father what parenting really means and to imitate him. But as well as being good parents ourselves God challenges us to encourage the parents we meet to also love their children with the love of the Father. This is true for all believers, but health care workers perhaps have a special part to play in this ministry, since we see the results of broken parent-child relationships so often in our day to day work. In a world where children are often exploited and abused we are challenged to respond.
Family relationships are important to God. They should be important to us. They are the key to a healthy society. We should fight against the forces in our world (the lust for money, possessions, personal advancement) and in ourselves (self-obsession) that break down families. We should fight to preserve family structures and encourage anything that assists parents to love their children, whether those children be toddlers or adults, or anything in between.
If we do so we will, like John, be preparing people for the Lord, and making the world a better, happier place.