Jesus’ Views on Family are Startling when compared to this Commandment.
Exodus 20: 12
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
Honour your father and mother – what would Jesus do? Well we know that as a twelve year old he felt no need to put them ahead of his desire to hang out in the Temple ‘Child, why have you treated us like this?’ asks his less-than-honoured mother (Luke 2:48). Later he refuses to respond to his family’s concerns, asking ‘Who is my mother?’ (Matthew 12:48). Yet at the hour of his death on the Cross he asks his best friend to take on his responsibilities as a son to his mother: ‘Woman, here is your son’ (John 19:26).
Jesus provocatively declares he has not come to bring peace but a sword: ‘For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother’ (Matthew 10: 34). Nothing warm and fuzzy here, nor in this call to follow wholeheartedly: ‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple’ (Luke 14:26). Extreme language to describe family relationships, about as far as you could get from expressing honour. And yet Jesus lays into the Pharisees and scribes for breaking the fifth commandment – saying you are giving God what might otherwise have been due to your parents ‘makes void the word of God’ and demonstrates how far hearts are from God (Matthew 15:3-9).
So how do we make sense of what Jesus would have us do in relation to honouring our fathers and mothers? Perhaps the key is in honouring our ultimate Father and Mother, the true source of our being, and not letting any other claim, even that most legitimate of our duty to those with whom, through biology and relationship, we have mutual dependency and responsibility, come first. Seek first the kingdom, then live like kingdom people and show love to all, however easy or difficult those relationships might be.
Jesus – it is so hard to keep the most important thing in focus. Help us live up to being called your brothers and sisters. Help us be faithful children of God, giving honour where it is due. Help us in all our family and wider relationships, particularly at this challenging time, to share your love and honour one another in the stresses and strains of everyday life. Amen.
Dr Sam Richards, serving as Head of Children’s and Youth Work ,member of mayBe Community, Oxford.