“Honour your Parents (Ex 20,12)”

by John Wijngaards, LAWS FOR LIFE Series in the New Leader, 25 November 1973; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 7 September 1975

“Honour your Father and your Mother. Then you too will enjoy a long life in the land that Jahweh your God will give you.” (Exodus 20/12)

In its original intention this commandment was not addressed to youth, but to adult persons. It is obvious that smar children will obey their parents. The real difficulty begins when the child grows up and matures. As he discrovers his own mind and his own will, the young adult may feel inclined to disregard his parents, to push them aside. Especially so if his father and mother are becoming old, if their eyes are darkened, their hands begin to tremble and their legs are bent (see Koh 12/1.5). The Law reminds us of ithe fact that we will always have to retain respect for our parents. In harmony with the strict patriachal order of those days, a death penalty was meted out to the person who beat his parents (Ex 21, 15) or who ecursed them in public (Lev 20, 9). A man who rebelled aga.-inst his father and mother, incurred the anathema. of the whole community (Dt, 27, 16) and was stoned to death (Dt. 21, 18.21).

The Blessing of Life

The reason for this extreme severity does not only lie in the rigidly paternal struoture of society. The Hebrews had a deep realization of the fact that we receive life through our parents. By dishonouring our parents we commit the inhuman crime of trampling on life and existence themselves. Our parents, however imperfect and weak they may be especially In their old age, represent to us the gift of life. That is why to this commandment is added the special blessing of a long life. If we honour our parents, we ourselves will be given a long life. “whoever glorifies his mother is like one who lays up a treasure; who glorifies his father will have a long life” (Sir 3,4.6). Just as in our own being we have to acknowledge our individuality as a thing given and to be accepted ~ so we have to accept and honour in our parents the very prinnciple of our dependence on life.

Respect for Mother

The commandment stresses that honour should be given not only to the father, bot also to the mother. The Old Testament traditions never tire of inculcating this duty: “Do not discard your mother’s teaching” (Prov. 1,8). “The Lord confirmed the right of the mother over her sons” (Sir 3, 2). “Do not forget the birthpangs of your mother”’ (Sir 7 27). The Bible often mentions the special role which the mother played in the life of its great heroes: of Moses (Ex 2, 2·9). Ismael (Gen 21, 14.16), Samuel (1 Sam 1. 22.27) and many others. In the books of the Kings the name of the king’s mother is usually mentioned as an important point of information: “In the seventh year of Jehu Jehoash became king of Judah, He reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Ziblah of Beershebah.” (4 Kgs 12,1) In our social structures we may be inclined to overstress the position of the father. According to the biblical tradition we owe equal respect to our mother.

Being a Parent Means Giving Love

Children should always remember their obligation of respect towards their parents. This presupposes that the parents are real parents: that is, that they consider themselves as persons through whom God gives life and love to the children, The good of the children is the joy and happiness of the good parent. Sharing life and all that belongs to it with a new human belag makes a man father and a woman mother. The parents should therefore also respect the personality of their children. They should never do anything that would hamper their full growth and maturity. Some parents forget this, especially when dealing with their teenage children. When commenting on the commandment “Honour your father and mother”, St. Paul adds the warning: “Parents, do not treat your children in such a way as to provoke them to anger. Instead, raise them up with Christian discipline and instruction,” (Eph 6, 1.4). Christian discipline should be full of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility and self-control” (Gal 5, 22.23). With children respecting their parents, and parents loving thir children in this way, the outcome will be the ideal Christian family.