Wednesday, February 14, 2007

“The first commandment with a promise”

The Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” ends with a promise. God pledges a long and prosperous life in the “promised land” to those who keep this commandment (Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:2-3). St. Paul refers to this commandment and promise when he writes in Ephesians 6:1, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”

The command to honor and obey your parents is illustrated in this picture. Here you see Noah after the flood dried up and the ark landed (Genesis 9:18ff). Noah grew some grapes, made wine, and became drunk. One of Noah’s sons, Ham, laughed when he saw his father lying naked in his tent. The other sons, Shem and Japheth, held up a garment and walked backwards, and so covered their father without seeing him naked. Because of their respect for their father, Noah blessed Shem and Japheth. But because of Ham’s disrespect, Noah cursed Ham’s descendants.

The story of Noah and his sons shows how respect for your parents is connected with blessings and inheritance. Disrespect can lead to trouble and hardship. Paul extends this commandment to include the way workers serve their employers (Ephesians 6:5-8), and the way citizens submit to their government (Romans 13:1-7).

Whatever political activists and social philosophers say, God intends that society have an orderly structure. That structure is based on the family, where parents rule their children and not vice versa. This does not give parents or rulers freedom to do what they please to those under them. God also gives parents and masters commands, and urges them to rule with gentleness (Ephesians 6:4, 9).

Respect for parents, employers, and leaders grows rarer each day. It is not merely a matter of breaking rules. More than ever, people sneer at the idea that some people are “above” others by divine right. But God designed family and society as a picture of our relationship to Him. As He is the Lord of the whole world, He has given us lords and masters – even down to the level of the family. God rules us through them. God hides Himself behind the people He has placed in authority; so when we honor them, we honor God. And when we grumble against them, make sarcastic remarks at them, disobey them, or provoke their anger, we also provoke God. By dishonoring God, we forfeit the beautiful inheritance God has prepared for us.

Jesus honored His Father (John 8:49). Jesus did His Father’s will (Luke 22:42). In humble obedience to His Father, God’s Son suffered death on the cross for us. Then Jesus rose again and inherited the glorious kingdom of heaven (Philippians 2:5-11). For Jesus’ sake, God forgives our rebellion and our disrespect. He promises each of us a share of His heavenly Kingdom (Colossians 1:12).

Truly, “blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

IMAGE: Bellini, Giovanni (1430-1516). The Drunkenness of Noah, Oil on canvas. 103 x 157 cm. Photo: Hervé Lewandowski. Location: Musee des Beaux-Arts, Besancon, France. Photo Credit: Réunion des Musées Nationaux / Art Resource, NY

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