Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
Mother’s Day is this weekend and Father’s Day is a mere six weeks away. Therefore, it seemed to me to be a perfect time to look at the fifth commandment. The Ten Commandments are basically a relationship guide. The first four deal with humanity’s relationship with God. The remaining six deal with our relationships with each other – and the first of those with the earliest – and probably most important relationship in our lives. Our relationship with our parents.
The commandment says to “honor your father and your mother.” What exactly does “honor” mean in the context of this commandant? According to Merriam-Webster the verb honor in this context most likely means “to regard or treat (someone) with admiration and respect” or “to regard or treat with honor.” Let’s go with the first definition rather than looking at the definition for the noun honor, which I suspect will be defined using the verb. That kind of circular definition could make us dizzy.
We are to regard or treat our parents with admiration and respect. The key word is “and”. When I was growing up I respected my Dad but I didn’t always admire him. I felt he wasn’t around enough and that work was more important to him than my brothers and I. What I didn’t know then, but do now, is that we were the reason he worked. He needed to work so we could eat, have lights and heat. Cue the admiration.
Also important is what the commandment doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “when they deserve it” or “if they honor you first.” The really funny thing is that, although these are childish attitudes, the vast majority of those holding them are between the ages of fifteen and thirty. It’s not until we pass thirty and are struggling with raising our own children, that we begin to realize that we were wrong to put conditions on how we treated our parents. That’s when we realize that honor should be given unconditionally. Our parents have earned it, whether we see it or not, simply by being our parents. The commandment has no conditions because the Lord already understands this.
There are no conditions, but there is a promise. The promise is “that your days may be long.” Now, I could make the joke that if you don’t honor your mother and father they are likely to make you wish your days were shorter. But, it’s not all that funny – so I won’t. Although, I guess I already did. Oh well, where was I? Right! The promise!
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”
It has become fashionable to blame our parents for everything bad in our lives. You see it on TV all the time. Psychologists tell us it’s not our fault that our life is a mess; our parents are to blame. We don’t have to take responsibility for our choices because it’s their fault, not ours. The whole thing would be laughable if it weren’t so heartbreaking. Somewhere along the line we went from honoring our parents to blaming them, and now we have so many problems. Perhaps the corollary isn’t that it’s their fault, but that it is ours. We’re not honoring our parents anymore and we’re missing out on the promise that “it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life upon the earth.”
What do you know, there’s that pesky conjunction “and” again. We are told that when we honor our parents not only will we live longer but that things will go well. It’s a twofold promise. If we respect our parents, even to obey them when we are younger, we will live longer and our lives will be better. It seems to me to be a no brainer. It’s a win-win. There’s not really a downside.
That’s the thing, God never asks us to do the easy thing. He challenges us to do the most difficult. He knows that challenges and difficulty make us grow. So, instead of honoring our parents, one at a time, once a year let’s take up the challenge and do so everyday. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or how old they are for that matter. All that matters is that they are your parents. Love them. Admire and respect them. Honor them.