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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Honor your father and mother

After a few weeks of distractions, and a couple of recaps of where I have been, I am finally tackling the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." Paul calls this the first commandment with promise:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”–which is the first commandment with a promise– “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
A couple of questions come to mind here. If this is the first commandment with promise, then where are the rest of the commandments with promises? Not among the ten, at least I can't find any other in my Bible. Perhaps, there are other commandments with promises elsewhere in the Bible, yet I am racking my brain to find any. Perhaps someone can enlighten me here.

Could it be that the phrase that Paul used here could be translated differently? Perhaps, we can read this as, “This is the quintessential commandment with promise.” The idea being that all of the commandments have promises tied to them implicitly. The special thing about this commandment above all, is that it represents the unwritten link between keeping the commandments and receiving the reward for obedience. Thus, this commandment represents the principle underlying all of the commandments.

If we apply the notion that the commandments ought to be viewed not so much from a legal context, but from a relationship context, then perhaps, because the fifth commandment is about the most basic of all relationships--that of the parent-child--it exemplifies what all of the commandments are about.

Be that as it may, one might still think, if the flow of the logic of the Commandments was from love for God to love for self, and finally, love for others, then the first basic principle ought to have been respect for the sanctity of life. It just seems that basic to all relationships is the fact that we have the highest regard for human life and the commandment forbiding the taking of another's life ought to have been the foundation for interpersonal relationships. Yet, we see God places the emphasis on the fifth commandment before the sixth.

The reason might be that God created us not only as individuals, but also, and indeed, primarily, for relationships - we are created essentially social beings. In fact, many ills, character defects, addictions and "mental unwellness" can be traced back to some kind of dysfunction in our socialization - espcially dysfunction in our family of origin relatinships.

It is also through this initial family relationship and especially the parent-child relationship that we gain all the basic essentials for life, and are equipped for living. We learn trust, love, honesty, forgiveness, cooperation and the necessary virtues that are needed for healthy relationships. We also establish the foundations for our self-identity and self-esteem through this basic relationship. If this relationship is broken, jeopardized, or becomes dysfunctional, it impacts us throughout our entire lifetime. However, a healthy home life and especially a happy childhood, provides the grounding for a satisfying and happy life. That is in essence the fulfillment of "promise" of the fifth commandment: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

The emphasis in the giving of the fifth commandment is the fact that this foundational of all human relationships illustrate, and is an outflowing of, the relationship we have with our Creator. For, without the ultimate relationship with our Father in Heaven, we will not be able properly to relate to our human father and mother, and consequently our other relationships are all adversely affected, negatively impacted, tainted, broken, messed up. The fifth commandment, seen from the perspective of the relational underpinnings of the Commandments, establishes the focal point from which all humans learn to relate to one another, to oneself and to God.

Interestingly, the cure for dysfunctions in our relationships is not first and foremost to seek recovery in that relationship. While that is obviously important and will bring healing to our souls, our Lord Jesus Christ actually provided a new family through which we find recovery, healing and ultimately, find our very soul. He did this in a moving demonstration of what He has come to established: the Church by giving us the New Commandment:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (NIV).
I will have more to say later, in a separate post, about this commandment, and its relationship to the two Greatest Commandment and about the balm that God has provided for us to heal, recover and to regain our souls through the Church family.

For those of us who are parents the fifth commandment is, in more ways than one, a means of grace - for it is through the dyamics of this relationship that He teaches not only our children to walk with Him. Also we parents are able to catch a glimpse of the heart of the Heavenly Father through our interacting with our children.

That is why Paul emphasizes that the commandment is not just a one way honoring of one's father and mother, but a two-way responsiblity: Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right... Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.