Lesson 4: The Fourth Commandment

Honor Your Mother and FatherHonor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

The questions I got about this one each year in ninth grade catechism class were “How far does that go? Do I have to obey every demand my parents make? Do I have to obey them my entire life?” Funny how much we read the commandment as obedience. Even Luther did as he extended it to include all authorities. “We should fear and love God that we may not despise nor anger our parents and masters, but give them honor, serve, obey, and hold them in love and esteem.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)

Of course, obedience is a bad word nowadays. Long ago, we stopped using “love, honor, and obey” in our marriage services. For that matter, authority is a bad word as well. We no longer regard parents as authorities. Now they are caregivers. And to be frank, that word works very well. It actually fits Jesus’ comment on this command. We are to take care of those who took care of us.

The question still remains, “How far does that go?” When the commandment was first written, parents did most of the caregiving. Fathers taught their sons their trade and mothers taught their daughters how to be homemakers. Chances are, the sons still lived with their families in the parents’ home. Today, children have many caregivers. Does the commandment extend to stepparents, teachers, coaches, scout leaders, church youth leaders? Of course, it does. We should honor all of these. However, parents certainly deserve special attention.

End of life issues immediately jump to mind, and that is where Jesus focused two thousand years ago. He observed using Corban could be failure to honor your parents. The practice was a promise to use certain assets as a gift to the temple, sometimes even hanging on to them during your lifetime (Mark 7: 1-13). Jesus observed this often was used to make yourself look good to the religious authorities and community when you should have really used the money to support your aged parents. In his mind, your obligation to care for your parents took priority over supporting the temple. We should not take this as a put down of the institutional church, but rather as a reminder of where we should place our priorities.

In our day, honoring parents is a communal as well as an individual responsibility. I should care for my father and mother, perhaps moving them closer to me when they can not care for themselves. But, I also should make sure the community does its part. One of the our society’s failures is how it handles end of life issues. Well over 85 percent of health care money goes to the last months of our life. Families amass huge savings, so they will have enough for those final months. Still many go through all their funds and die paupers. It does not take much thought to see there is something dreadfully wrong with this.

The answer is not to adopt the so-called “family values” we hear some politicians and preachers promote that tell us to abandon big government and return care of parents exclusively to the family. It is naive to think that is ever going to happen; and if it did, hosts of people would be left without care. Neither we as individuals or our community as a whole should abandon those who depend on us.

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  1. John Myers says:

    While I agree completely with honoring and caring for those who cared for me, I am having trouble with that last statement about ‘big government’ (bg). If the intent is that somehow bg has the resources (financial and professional) to care for us in our last months and should share the burden, I disagree. First, bg is incompetent and irresponsible (see unsustainable debt), is uncaring (see regulatory state), and serves as a false crutch (why should I give when government takes care of that). While it is nice to think the ‘community’ will help – bg is not my ‘community’ – my ‘community’ is my local church and the community if saints therein, and the local world that I can see, feel and touch. When we get too far from that, it just goes all wrong – despite our best intentions.

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