The first four of the Ten Commandments all fall under the umbrella of "Loving God." Jesus said the greatest commandment is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. For the past four days, we have looked at the first four commandments, and how following these commandments is an expression of Loving God.
The last six of the Ten Commandments have to do with Loving People. Jesus said that the second greatest commandment is to Love your neighbor as yourself. Each of these commandments are expressions of Loving People.
So, on to Commandment 5:
"Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you."
This commandment needs some preface. It's a tough one for many to read. It's possibly a tough one for you. You may have had bad relationships with your parents. Perhaps your parent did something awful--seemingly unforgivable--and now you're faced with the commandment to honor them??? This is not something that comes easily. For some, it doesn't seem doable at all.
Or perhaps you've had a bad relationship with one of your children, and you haven't felt properly honored.
To many, this commandment brings up painful emotions. "How could a loving God command me to honor that man or that woman?" Well, if we look at how this command would have been heard by the Israelites at the time, it may seem much more in line with the heart of God.
First of all, this is not a commandment that would have been seen as something for parents to use in order to “keep their kids in line.” Many parents have used this commandment for that purpose? Kids acting out is tough to deal with. Nevertheless, that’s not what this text points to.
For the Israelites, to “honor” someone was to consider them a person of value. The people have just left Egypt. They were slaves. Now they’re free, and they’re struggling to survive. The land isn’t easy to live off of, especially in the desert. You have to build shelters, find food without adequate rainfall (again, they are in the desert), and survive in an area that’s not exactly built for survival. What do you do? Well, if you’re many people, you realize that selling members of your family into slavery will get you some good money, so that the rest of you will be able to survive. You’ll also realize that certain people need to have most of the resources: the food, the water. The younger people with the good backs and upper body strength need to be in good health to do the work that helps people survive. So the temptation, then, is to decide who’s more “worth saving," right? The temptation is to decide who’s helpful to the group, and who’s not. So in this context, this commandment is about much more than “Children: obey what your parents say to you.” It calls people to honor their elders; to consider them people of value; of worth. We’ve seen horrifying examples in history of what can happen when people view certain groups of people as having less value than others. This isn’t an ancient historical event: the Nazi idea of a master race was around in the 1940’s. Neo-Nazism is still a thing. There are still chapters of the KKK in America.
The idea that some people have more value than others can lead to unbelievable destruction and hurt. This is the basic message of the Harry Potter series. It’s what happens in X-Men. These are stories about people deciding who has more and less value. Honor your Father and Mother. See others as people who have value. Whether it’s those with physical or mental limitations, those from different regions, those with different backgrounds, children, teenagers, adults, the elderly--all people have value. For this group of people, it was the older among them. For us it may be another group. It could be the mentally ill, the homeless, the drug addicted, or countless other groups. But the message is still the same: they’re worthy of honor. They’re valued by God, and they’re to be valued by us.
Honor your Father and Mother. Honor all people, even if conventional wisdom might consider them less worthy of honor. God values them, and we are to value them as well.