Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The 5th Commandment

The 5th Commandment

I use to work with a volunteer organization who went into nursing homes and visited people who had no one to visit them. We would get a list from the management of people who had no visitors and just go and visit. It was a surprisingly large number of people. The work was difficult because it just broke your heart to see so many people who had been abandoned and warehoused in these facilities. As we visited different facilities, we also quickly learned which facilities offered better care than others. We were often amazed at what these facilities could get by with as far as cleanliness and care…
It was doing this work that I met a couple who were housed in one of the more poorly maintained and cared for nursing home. When I first met them I was confused as to why they were even in a nursing home. They shared the same room and they were completely mobile; there were no cognitive issues; they were healthy….. We talked for a while and they were delightful. The husband had been a veteran of WW2 and told me great stories of his times there. The wife had worked in the school system and likewise told me about the children she worked with….. I inquired in the office if someone could enlighten me as to why these people were here and being a nursing home who didn’t care much for regulations the director was quite open with why this couple was there.
I learned the couple had been counseled to give their property and much of their savings to their children because of the Medicaid/Medicare regulations. As soon as they did that, their children sold their house and evicted their parents and through a series of events and some shady dealings ended up in these poor conditions in this facility……. And unfortunately this is not an isolated incident.
Solomon said ‘There is nothing new under the sun” meaning that we think many of the practices we see today are something new but we find that isn’t true. In the passage Robin read this morning we hear Jesus talking about a practice called “Corban”. The practice of Corban was prevalent in the days of Jesus. Anyone who made a Corban vow was required to dedicate money to God’s temple that otherwise would have gone to support his parents. Corban had become a religiously acceptable way to neglect parents, circumventing the child’s responsibility to them. Although the action - giving money to God - seemed worthy and no doubt conferred prestige on the giver, many people who took the Corban vow were disregarding God’s command to care for needy parents. These religious leaders were ignoring God’s clear command to honor their parents. Jesus pointed this out to the religious leaders and to the people and reminded them of God’s commandment to honor parents.
This practice of neglecting parents has been around since there have been parents and children. But God wanted his people to be different than the society around them. The society around God’s people had no conscious about neglecting older people…. they were considered an extra mouth to feed; they couldn’t contribute to the work of the family so they were just excess weight and this abandonment of the elderly was not unusual in the cultures around the God’s people. But God reminds us over and over of the value of life - all life - and we as God’s people have a responsibility to care for everyone - especially those people who aren’t able to care for themselves.
As we continue our study of the 10 commandments, the 5th Commandment is a shift from the commandments that are directly related to our honoring God to commandments that help us to understand the importance of honoring one another. It is the perfect bridge commandment because we see God as a loving parent - our Father - so the command to honor parents includes both our heavenly Father and the honoring of our earthly parents. This command includes both God and people….
We have just spent 4 commandments understanding God’s direction to honor him and now God says, ‘Honor me as well as the people I have created - especially your parents.”
As we read this commandment, our first thought is usually that this is a commandment meant for our young children; a commandment meant for the young people in our society. “Mind your parents’ we

say to our children and yes, they should. But this commandment is specifically aimed to the adults win the community. The Bible is full of incidents where children dishonor their parents: Jacob tricked his blind, elderly father into giving him Esau’s birthright, Simeon and Levi trick their father into murdering the whole clan of Shechem, Rachel dishonors her father Laban by stealing his household gods and then lying about it, Lots daughters get their father drunk…. Honoring parents has been a problem since the beginning, even for God’s people.
The commandment reads:
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” Some translations will swap the word “honor” with the word ‘obey’ which gives the commandment a different meaning and that is not really what the commandment is trying to say.
The word ‘honor’ comes from a Hebrew word, Kabbed, which means regard with great respect; hold in high esteem, give someone their due weight or importance. The Talmud, which is the Jewish commentary on the scriptures says: Honor your parents means they must be given food and drink, clothes and cover and you are to lead them in and out..” In other words, you are give care for your elderly parents and give them what they need to help them live out their life…..”
Another important aspect of this commandment is that the commandment states that you are to honor your father and your mother. This is a society that honors fathers - in a proper household in this culture, the father was the head of the family; the father made all the decisions; nothing was done without the blessing of the patriarch, the oldest male in the clan. Old women were just excess baggage who were a strain on the resources of the group and it was not unusual when the patriarch died for the widow to be cast out of the home which was a death penalty because there were no resources for her to care or herself.
But God explicitly states that his people were to be different than the society around them and care for both the mother and the father. This was such a difference in the practices of God’s people as opposed to the community around them.
What this commandment reminds us is the importance of life - life is a gift from God and is to be honored at every stage of life. For God’s people, valuing life extended even beyond the death of a parent. Death was a celebration of life. By Jewish custom a dead body may not be able to fulfill its created purpose, but it was still to be revered for the holy purpose for which God created it. For that reason, a body was never left unattended from the time of death until burial. Special prayers that affirmed life and accepted God’s will was said daily. There was a 12-month mourning period for parents after their death - which was even long that the mourning period of a spouse.
Life is sacred and the ones whom God has chosen to bring life into the word are worthy of honor.
But in light of this the question arises about the human relationships of parents and children. Parents aren’t perfect - children aren’t perfect. There are abuses in both directions. The commandment doesn’t say ‘agree with everything your parents or your children say or do’, the commandment doesn’t say you have to live in situations of abuse, the commandment doesn’t say you are stuck in unhealthy relationships, it says to respect your parents for giving you life and that can mean lots of things in many different situations. Jesus always interjects common sense into our understanding of the commandments - but just like the practice of Corban in Jesus; day, we can’t make excuses for neglecting parents or use obscure laws to mistreat parents. They gave us life and God says that means something and that in itself deserves our respect.
One other note about this commandment - it is the only commandment that has a promise attached to it.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
The Commandment reminds us of the vast wisdom held in our parents - parents who have lived through many different experiences; situations; trials and tribulations; and through all of that learned a great deal they can share with us - and will help us as we live our lives and perhaps help us not to have to learn things the hard way….
Honor your parents - but not just your parents - honor all of life. God our ultimate father, our parent, created life and told us to care for all of life.

Amen!