The Stewardship of the Gift of Relation to Parents, or as St. Paul says, of the Gift of Sonship—is one of the most important aspects of each of our lives. Our Lord understood this so well that He even dedicated a commandment to that effect—the only commandment with a promise of salvation! “Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). This week we will examine how we exercise good Stewardship of Sonship/Childhood—that wonderful and primary relationship between a child and parents.
Let us examine what it means to give honor. The ‘definition’ of honor is twofold: actively, to honor means to acknowledge with high public esteem or glorify; passively, it is high respect or to recognize worth in someone. Either way, we are talking about placing great value on someone when we honor them. Biblically, honoring one’s parents also has a direct link with the blessed life promised by God. Honor in a Biblical sense had a very proprietary and monetary value. Why is there this link? Why did God promise length of days to those who practice good Stewardship of their parents?
The answer is hinted at in the relationship one has with earthly parents. Honoring one’s father and mother prepares one and enables one to honor God the Father! So how do we practice this honor?
First of all, we must respect our parents. We may not agree with everything that they do (especially as a teenager/adolescent)—but we should continue to respect them and their commands. As children, we enact this respect by loving, following rules and practicing obedience. As American adolescents, hard as it may be, we must continue to be obedient and offer ourselves in love. As adults, our respect for our parents is manifested in more and different ways than simply obedience and emotional love. Rather than just love and obedience, our sphere of existence is wider than when we were living in the home with them.
Christ adds to the commandment: “For God commanded, “Honor your father and your mother,’ and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’” (Matthew 15:4). We are called to not speak evilly about our parents—or we shall die! This death is a cutting off—a casting out of the community—which in ancient times meant death. Similarly, speaking evil about our parents casts us out of communion with the family, out of communion with God—in as much as we make ourselves more important and greater than our parents.
Essentially, just like in our marriages, friendships and roles as father and mother, our role as children in the relationship with our parents must be one of sacrificial love. We must sacrifice our own wants and desires for the sake of our parents. This does not mean that we are to denounce our faith. Christ Himself said, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and He who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). But is does mean that we are not to leave our parents to fend for themselves as they get older. Rather, we are to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of caring for and loving them.
So, what if there is abuse from parent to child? St. John Chrysostom says to endure with patience and love even that which threatens the physical body for it but passes away. This love and sacrifice expressed in patient endurance may be just the witness—the martyrdom—needed for the softening of the abusive parents heart. This is the ideal–but it may not be possible for everyone to attain. We are also called to Stewardship of our own bodies and selves, which cannot be ignored either.
What we cannot forget—just like in all of our other relationships—is the Eschatological character of loving our parents—and the preparation it gives us for the world to come. Christ revealed that we are to pray to God as our Father. In Jesus Christ, when we participate in Him by being and becoming His Body through communion, we are made Sons of God through Him. Thus, we are called to give honor to our Father—the Almighty God. The honor we attend and give to our parents is a direct reflection of how we love and honor God Himself—our Father.
The primary and often wonderful relationship between a child and mother and father truly is a Gift of God. It is one that calls for sacrificial love—a love that prepares us to love God as our Father for all eternity!