Sunday, January 15, 2012

What Does it Mean to Honor Our Parents? (Part 3)

What should we make of the rather enigmatic closing statement of my last posting? Certainly practical and pragmatic are synonyms. Even though they both deal with observable facts and situations, pragmatism, at least in my mind, connotes expediency. When it comes to the actual practice of loving our neighbor, God demands that we place the needs of him or her ahead of our own. And rarely is such self-sacrifice expedient.

Therefore, we love our neighbor as God has loved us. Jesus taught us through his parable of the good Samaritan that everyone is our neighbor. But our parents are our first neighbors and hold a special place in our life: we are to honor them.

The Hebrew word for honor is kabad. It means to grant the appropriate measure of authority due and to highly value and to care for and to respect. Kabad also has the meaning of weight. Kabad was translated in the Greek, as by Paul in Ephesians 6:2, as timao. Timao means to ascribe great value to something, revere, or to venerate.

To properly honor our parents begins with knowing the authority that they are due. If we love God first, then we seek Him to define our parents’ due authority. We glean the following from our conversation thus far.

As pre-adult children we must obey our parents, learn from them, and depend on them; indeed, it is an obligation for parents to provide for their children (I Cor. 12:14-15). But I interpret Paul here to mean pre-adult children. Once children separate as adults from their parents, such children are obligated to meet their own needs, and, in fact, be prepared to meet the needs of their parents. As pre-adult children then, God has given our parents supreme authority over us. Consider Luke’s account of the child, Jesus:

Now Jesus’parents went to Jerusalem every year for the feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. But when the feast was over, as they were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but (because they assumed that he was in their group of travelers)they went a day’s journey. Then they began to look for him among their relatives and acquaintances. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts,sitting among the teachers,listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Jesus were astonished at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were overwhelmed. His mother said to him, “Child,why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” But he replied,“Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Yet his parents did not understand the remark he made to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. But his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and with people.[NET]

Jesus was without sin, so He did not wantonly dishonor His parents by staying behind in Jerusalem. One can only wonder how powerfully the divine nature in Christ moved Him while He sat amongst the Doctors outside the temple. But it was not the right time for Jesus to pursue His calling this way because he remained under his parents' authority, as shown by Jesus honoring His parents by going with them and thereafter obeying them.

When we pass into adulthood our relationship with our parents shifts from one of authority to duty; we are no longer obligated to obey them, nor are we to depend on them. But we have the duty to care for them and heed their advice, which might still amount to obedience. The word kabad means weight; hence, honoring our parents means bearing the weight of duty to our parents that God has placed upon us; in this way we honor God whose weight of authority should not be superseded.

We satisfy our duty to care for parents and so honor them as adult children by, as first priority, readily providing for them financially, and giving them shelter, food, clothing, medical care, and company (both with us and their grandchildren).

In our modern world, now so big, that last obligation can be overlooked. But in light of spirit of Proverbs 17:6, we have a duty to be with our parents and allow them access to their grandchildren as much as possible.

Our parents are forever older than us, and that experience is a treasure. We have a duty to our parents to consider their advice in matters. I struggled with a difficult conflict with another person and told my parents of the situation. They advised me to take the high road and wait for the proper time to challenge the person. It was immediately evident to my heart that they advised the proper action, even though I wanted desperately to confront the person. No matter how old we get, or how much formal education we might have on our parents, our parents deserve our ear because they have experienced more than we have. And this duty of respect becomes even more crucial if our parents are true Christ followers.

Do we ever have to obey our parents as adult children? Must we always heed our parents' advice? As with all matters of the Kingdom of God, the answer is found in our first love for God. Even as pre-adult children there can be, and I say this with sadness, demands made by our parents that we should never obey. And all such rogue demands can be traced to inconsideration of the principles and meanings of one or more of the other nine Words of God. Again, our first obligation is to love God.

Yet, even though we no longer have to obey our parents as adult children, we might still need to obey our parents in some instances. Sometimes God clearly uses our parents as vessels to direct us, as in the situation with my parents I related earlier, or as in the case of Jesus and his mother, Mary, at a wedding in Cana, as recorded in the second chapter of John’s gospel.

Now on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no wine left.” Jesus replied,“Woman, why are you saying this to me? My time has not yet come.” His mother told the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washing,11 each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants, “Fill the water jars with water.” So they filled them up to the very top. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the head steward,” and they did. When the head steward tasted the water that had been turned to wine, not knowing where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheaper wine when the guests are drunk. You have kept the good wine until now!” Jesus did this as the first of his miraculous signs,in Cana of Galilee. In this way he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.[NET]

Jesus obeyed His mother, and demonstrated to all of us the honor due our parents. His apparent initial balking at her request was not resistance but a way of defining the meaning to what would transpire: the kingdom would come in power (the impossible made possible), redemption (the sacrifice in death--blood symbolized by the wine), resurrection (the water transformed into the best wine), and how the Law would move from outward practices (symbolized by the water in jars reserved for ritual hand-washing) to the pouring out of love in the hearts of the dwellers by the Holy Spirit (the wine). It was not yet time for all of this to happen—Jesus spoke truthfully--but stood poised at the door. Jesus obeyed His mother because it served God’s purposes for Him at that moment; it kindled the coming of the kingdom of heaven, which is His glory.

God demands us to honor our parents, and He measures out the proper weight of that obligation for us both as pre-adult and adult children. If we profess to be followers of Christ, then we dwell with God in His kingdom. And as kingdom dwellers we must love God above all else, and through that preeminent love, love our neighbors. And this love for our neighbors starts with our parents who are our first neighbors.