Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
The 10 Commandments were offered to people in the Wilderness between escape from Egypt and being settled in the Promised Land. This sets the story in the Ancient Near East somewhere around 1200 BCE. The infrastructure of society at that time was based around tribal family. If people found themselves in need, it was to the broad tribal family they turned. It was the tribal family structure which protected the vulnerable and maintained order. It was the strength of the tribal family as a whole which enabled survival into “long days”. To honour the structure was to respect it, uphold it and enable everyone to survive. To honour the structure was to know where you came from and where you belonged. Of course, this will have worked well for some and less well so for others, and evolved and changed over time.
In UK society today, we often think of our mother and father in terms of the nuclear family and in relation to this commandment, either dismiss it or angst over it. If we understand honouring our parents to mean submitting to behaviors and perceptions which are destructive or diminishing of human worth, I believe we are entirely missing the purpose of this commandment which is about supporting a society which protects.
How does it affect us to think of honouring our mother and father not just as 2 individuals but representing the wider, longer and diverse heritages, cultures and communities to which we belong? What could it mean for our world if we respected our diverse heritage and through it sought to build communities in which everyone belonged and was protected? I believe doing this may draw us in the direction of why this commandment was given to people wandering in the wilderness nearly 3000 years ago.
Holy One, Jesus showed us that each life is precious, valuable and interconnected. May remembering our heritage deepen our humanity and lead us to build your Realm on earth through relationships which respect, include and protect all. In the name of Jesus. Amen
The Rev’d Fiona Bennett, minister, Augustine United Church Edinburgh