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Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Ten Words (5)

Whilst it may be argued that each of the Ten Words (Commandments) impinges on our relationship with our Creator God, the first four are specifically so.  The remaining six serve as the standards of conduct in areas of human behaviour that generate the most far reaching consequences on individuals, families, groups and society.  In other words, the first four commandments have to do, primarily, with my relationship God-ward; the following six with my relationship man-ward.

Commandment number 5 deals with the most basic human relationship, and is the second that is framed in a positive fashion.  It reads: "Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God gives you." (Ex 20:12), and Paul points out that "... this is the first commandment with a promise." (Eph 6:2).

So what does this commandment mean?   In a world in which many who are able to do so spend small fortunes to keep themselves looking as young as possible while, at the same time, seeking (and, in some countries, succeeding) to legalise euthanasia/assisted dying/suicide, these words may sound strange.  Why should one be concerned about parents and, by extension, other elderly folk?  Such a question would not have occurred to the children of Israel.   Alan Cole writes: "This commandment is part of the general attitude of Israel to old age (as symbolising and, ideally, embodying the practical wisdom of life) commended throughout the Old Testament (Lev.19:32), and found in many other ancient peoples, notably the Chinese." (Tyndale O.T. Commentaries; in loc).

We should honour our parents as those responsible for our existence.  We should honour our parents for the care that they gave to us when we were unable to care for ourselves.  We should honour our parents for the good example that they provide for us.  Sadly, we live in a generation, and culture in which not everyone would recognise such reasons for honouring their parents.  There are, in my opinion, far too many who do not have any relationship with one/both of their biological parents.  It is quite tragic when that is the case because the child is an orphan.  It is even worse when the child has been, effectively abandoned by the parents.  Many parents, in our 'advanced', 'civilised', 'developed', western culture do not care adequately for even the youngest of children.  Indeed, there are millions of mothers who, every year, are responsible - with the willing assistance of others - for the deaths of their children by murder in the womb (aka abortion!).   One doesn't have to read too many news reports to discover that there are many parents whose only example to their children is negative. I wonder if this is why we are experiencing an unprecedented breakdown in, not only family life, but also society as a whole? 

So, how do we honour our parents?  May I suggest that we do so by showing them love, and care; by providing for them in their old age; by recognising their continuing contribution to society in general.  When I was sharing these commandments with secondary school pupils in their early teenage years, I would suggest that it might involve such simple act as keeping one's bedroom tidy; offering to wash up after a meal; volunteering to take the dog for a walk.

Of course, there are parents who are extremely difficult.  However, honouring even such should be our default position.  We may then claim the promise that "our days may be long".  For the children of Israel, this would have been understood in straightforward physical terms, and would have been applied to the land of Israel.  Today, I believe, we may rightly spiritualise the promise.  The honouring of parents is a Christian duty (Eph.6:1; cf I Tim.5:3-4, 8), and those who do so may anticipate, not simply length of days in this world, but the eternal day in the next!  It isn't the whole of the Christian life - but it is an important component part.  Jesus, Himself, affirmed the commandment.  "And He said to [the Pharisees and the scribes], 'You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!  For Moses said, 'Honour your father and your mother'; and, 'He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die'; but you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, 'What you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God) - then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on'." (Mark 7:9-13).

It is also worth remembering that the way in which we treat our own parents, and older folk whom we know, may well be the way in which, if we are spared to old age, we will be treated.  We really do "reap what we sow"!

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