Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reflecting on the Fifth Commandment

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you. (Exodus 20:12)

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. (Martin Luther)

First, the thing that might strike modern ears as odd. “Masters” in Luther's historical context principally referred to masters of apprentices. Since apprentices would have been youth, their masters would have been acting in loco parentis, using modern terms.

This commandment seems pretty straight forward, right? Obey your parents? Well, not exactly. “Honor” means much more than that, and the meaning also changes as the child moves into adulthood, marriage and becoming a parent. Straightforward obedience applies mainly during when the child is dependent on the parent, entirely or partly. It's the “honor” part that gets so sticky. It gets down into your heart - your attitudes, respect, affections. That's really challenging, especially during the teen years and early twenties, when young people think they know and understand more than they really do. I remember, when I was age 19 or so, how smart my parents “suddenly” became! Even as adults, parents should be respected, for advice, generally, and especially in raising one's own children.

This assumes, of course, that obeying one's parents is appropriate. God's is the higher authority and parents' authority derives from God, therefore obeying a parental command to commit or cover up a crime or a fraud would be wrong. It also assumes that one's parents are worthy of honor. A parent who beats or verbally degrades their spouse or children has made himself or herself unworthy of honor.

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