Restaurants were packed, flower shops put on extra staff, greeting card racks were picked over as we honored our mothers. Next month we will fire up the back yard grills and head to the lakes to honor our fathers. We know intuitively that this is right. Regardless of our nationality or ethnicity; regardless of whether we are rich or poor, we have this urge inside of us to keep the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and your mother.” It is, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, the first commandment with a promise: “that your days may be long upon the earth.”
My father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and died when he was 53. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with him and asking him what he expected. He said he expected a year of health and a year of decline. His faith in Christ and the resurrection was strong. As it turned out he had less than four months before he lay dying in a hospital bed while I held his hand.
I never heard one word of profanity from his lips. He loved our mother and he loved us. He was always full of laughter. I saw him repeatedly choose to be wronged rather than to risk wronging someone else. The night before he died, he sent a get well card to a friend who was on another floor of the hospital.
My mother likewise loved God and sought to serve others. She lived as a widow after my father’s death for 35 years. She chaperoned special-needs kids on the bus and sat with them at church. The day before she died my children gathered around her bed and she blessed them. Most people, like me, have fond memories and great admiration for their mother and father.
Of course not all fathers and mothers are good. The relationship between parent and child can be the source of life’s greatest joy as well as its greatest pain. Some live their lives, even into old age, haunted by resentment and anger toward their parents.
We somehow sense, as witnessed by our obsession with the parent-child relationship in books and movies, that this relationships is essential to health and wholeness. We hear it in King Lear’s complaint, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child!” We find it in John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Luke Skywalker’s discovery that Darth Vador is his father, or Ray Kinsella building a baseball diamond in his Iowa corn field to “ease his pain.” All of all these stories, and thousands more, reflect our urge to be reconciled to those who gave us birth.
Health and wholeness for each of us starts with obedience to the fifth commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” There are no exceptions. We are not exhorted to “honor those who deserve to be honored.” Regardless of past hurts, oversights or failures, regardless of our parents’ response, we are to honor mother and father because we are honorable. In this relationship above all we must apply the admonition of Scripture: “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32).