Summary: The respect we get is equal to the respect we give
On a cross Country flight a rabbi was seated next to an atheist. I know sounds like the beginning to a bad joke. A Rabbi and an atheist walk in to a … But I love this story.
Every few minutes one of the rabbi’s children or grandchildren would come to his seat to see if he needed anything - food, drink, something to read. They’d just come and check on him. The atheist commented, "The respect your children and grandchildren show you is wonderful. Mine don’t show me that respect. "
"Think about it," the rabbi said. "To my children and grandchildren I am one step closer to the God who created the Hebrews, the God who spoke to us at Sinai. To yours, you are merely one step closer to the apes."
That story, in a not-so-subtle way, communicates an important message. Being the people of God has a profound impact on how we treat other people, especially the ones closest to us. It stands in stark contrast to the bumper sticker that says, "Be nice to your children; they’ll pick your nursing home. " Or the one that reads, "Honor they father and mother; they haven’t made their will yet. "
The fifth commandment is unique for several reasons. It is one of only two positively stated commands. Last week we talked about the other, Remember the Sabbath day.
It is the only command that comes with a promise, that you may live a long and happy life.
And it stands in an important location in the list. The fifth commandment is a transitional command.
The first four addressed how human beings are to relate to God. The last six address how human beings are to relate to each other. Just as the first command is foundational for the other nine, so the fifth command serves as a basis for the last six. Its placement in the list suggests that the home is the primary source of values, ethics and morality. Just as a failure to honor God with exclusive allegiance keeps us from obeying the other commands, so a failure to honor our parents results in an inability to honor any other human being. In other words, if we don’t show respect and love to our families, we will struggle to show honor and compassion to our friends, neighbors and strangers.
Once again I need to call your attention to the audience to whom these words were addressed. Growing up I was taught that this Command was addressed to children. The little ones in the crowd at Sinai were to honor their fathers and mothers. Now I believe that they were included in this one as well as all the others. And Paul, in Ephesians 6:1 applies this commandment to young people. But the command, as all the commands were a personal direction to the grown men and women at the base of the Mountain.
I believe that there were three reasons that this command was needed.
1) Remember that the ones who were addressed by God through Moses were just released from 400 years of slavery.
They had lived in a culture that devalued age, as you got older it was harder to work and if you could not work, you were worthless. We do the same thing today. It’s called early retirement.
2) They lacked the social structure that would provide for people in need.
That’s why there are so many commands about how they were to provide for the poor and even for strangers who were living in their land. There was no Social Security, no retirement plans, so older people had to rely on their children when they could no longer care for themselves. But God knows that we are inherently selfish, that’s why the New Testament is filled with Commands to Love one another, Care for one another, Give preference to one another, look out for the good for one another.
3) It is the first command with a promise.
God says that those of us who will honor our parents will have long life and health. Now I don’t believe that there is some king of mystic magical connection between long life and loving mom and dad. I have known scoundrels who have lived long lives and know people who loved their family dearly die at a young age.
But that’s not the promise. Guess where children learn to honor their parents? From their parents. If an adult doesn’t honor his parents then he is teaching his children not to honor him.
One of Grimm’s fairy tales is about a little boy who lived with his father, his mother, and his elderly grandfather. The grandfather was feeble and his hands shook. When he ate, the silverware rattled against the plate, and he often missed his mouth. Then the food would dribble onto the tablecloth. This upset the young mother, because she didn’t want to have to deal with the extra mess and hassle of taking care of the old man. But he had nowhere else to live.