Reading Ramblings – June 19, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 19, 2016

Texts: Exodus 20:12; Psalm 127; Ephesians 6:1-3; Mark 7:8-13

Context: We move from the First Table of the Law to the Second; we move from the commandments that tell us how to love God to the commandments that tell us how to love our neighbor, and the first neighbor that we meet is our parents. The family is the primary building block of society in creation. It is here that we learn how to interact with people who are similar to us and different from us. We learn how to deal with the opposite sex. We learn how to deal with authority. We learn what love looks like and how to express it healthily. At least, this is the intention of family. Certainly as sinful people in a sinful world, family doesn’t always do these things. But that doesn’t negate the purpose and intent of family. As such, the authority of the family unit is essential. Being able to honor our father and mother, even when our father or mother is broken and sinful, is an essential commitment. It does not exonerate or excuse the sinful parent, but rather is a command that teaches us humility in all situations.

Exodus 20:12 – The command is simple – honor your father and mother. What does this look like? That will depend a great deal on the particular father and mother involved. The command has to do with intent, not with methodology. It doesn’t prescribe how we provide honor, but it commands that we do so. The command is binding regardless of whether mom and dad are good and loving or broken and toxic. The command is binding because it deals with our own hearts, rather than with the worthiness of other people. We must learn to honor others, even when we disagree with them, even when they are not worthy (by an arbitrary standard) of that honor. God saw fit to bring us into the world through our parents and if for no other reason, we owe them honor for this. Honoring our parents may require us to set healthy boundaries with them. Honoring our parents does not mean our parents will always want that honor, or accept the honor we strive to give them. But we strive to honor them in our hearts, in what we say about them and to them, even if from a distance. Like forgiveness, this is a personal decision wholly separate from the people that we are commanded to honor or forgive.

Psalm 127 – This psalm points out the fundamental reality that family finds it’s best expression when anchored in faithfulness to God. It isn’t that non-Christians can’t have good families – many do. But those families would be infinitely better if connected to their Creator! In a day and age that often treats children as a burden, this psalm unabashedly declares them a blessing! In a time when the unborn are seen as expendable, this psalm insists that they are of infinite value and a blessing from the Lord.

This psalm could be heard very painfully by those who desire children but are unable to have them. But this psalm doesn’t preclude children that come from other sources, through foster service or adoption. God can bring a child into people’s lives in many ways, and each way should be honored if it is pleasing to God. This means that we need to evaluate carefully the means by which we seek to have children, to ensure that those means don’t violate the other commandments.

Ephesians 6:1-3 – The commandment to honor our parents – as all of the Ten Commandments – remains binding on New Testament followers of Jesus Christ. It is the proper way of creation for all times and in all situations. The next verse exhorts fathers to treat their children properly as well, but regardless, children are to honor their parents. These verses come as part of Paul’s fleshing out of what it means to walk in unity and love with one another. We can’t claim to walk in love if we refuse to honor our parents. This commandment is also seen as the basis for the honor we convey to those in authority over us, and so we can’t properly be said to be walking in unity and love if we disparage those who hold civil authority over us. We are free to disagree with them and at times may need to do so vocally, but always with respect.

Mark 7:8-13 – It is tempting at times to convey the honor due to our parents to other institutions or persons instead, or to ourselves. Jesus calls out the religious authorities for essentially allowing people to ignore their obligations to their parents, so long as they commit their resources to the Temple. Likewise, today a congregation that encouraged people to give to the church even if that meant they were unable to provide for the needs of their family or parents would stand under equal condemnation. We cannot get out of this commandment – or any of the Commandments – by claiming some higher, more nebulous obligation to God. We cannot claim to love God so much that we ignore our parents and our family obligations to them. This isn’t pleasing to God! If it comes to a decision between telling a parishioner to tithe or to provide for their parents, the answer is easy – take care of your parents!

In all things we need to be honest with ourselves, and not seek to avoid one obligation through the excuse of another. God’s commands remain fixed. They are not subject to revision, because they are part and parcel of the fabric of creation.

This commandment assumes that a family will consist of a father and a mother, that this is the ideal, the norm to which we constantly aspire. Certainly situations happen where this norm is shattered, either through personal sinfulness or the sinfulness of the world we live in, which can snatch loved ones away through death in the blink of an eye. Yet while we should commend, encourage, and support single parents who give their all for their children, it is not a disparagement of their situation to say that the ideal remains two parents – one mother and one father. This is the oldest Biblical and biological model of human family, and all people ignore this only at considerable peril. We are not free to reshape this fundamental human society based on our personal preferences without creating unforeseen difficulties for future generations.

This commandment is difficult these days in a culture where we mostly hear about the failures of the family or the demands that the definition of family be modified to accommodate current fashion. I meet regularly with people who have damaged relationships with their parents, oftentimes due to parental addiction to alcohol and drugs, mental illness, and a host of other things. These (adult) children want to know how they are supposed to honor their parents, and I’m quick to point out that sometimes the best or only way we can honor our parents is from a distance. Sometimes it is only possible through carefully constructed and maintained boundaries that keep all parties in a more healthful state.

This commandment also challenges us because it affects every single one of us so intimately. Everyone has parents. Everyone is called upon to learn to honor them, whether present or absent, healthy or damaged, happy or distraught. We do not have to condone or justify our parents’ methods, but we have to honor their existence with the hope that in Jesus Christ, they too will one day be healed and made whole just as we will.

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