Honor or Division?
EXODUS 20:12; LUKE 12:49-53
We have been looking at the Ten Commandments. I summarized the first four as LET GOD BE GOD, and the last six as PEOPLE FIRST (Love Neighbor). I had planned to preach this morning on the fifth commandment--“Honor your father and your mother”. I then looked at the lectionary, the suggested scripture readings, and found that Luke 12.49-56 is the reading scheduled for today. What a contradiction! What a coincidence that both passages beg to be preached today, beg to be connected.
Which is which? Honor or Division? Honor your father and your mother? Or, Luke 12.53, “From now on, they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother.” “I have come to bring division,” said Jesus. There are even stronger words in Luke 14.26 where Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me, and does not hate father and mother….cannot be my disciple.”
How do we understand these verses? How do we reconcile them with the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother”? Honor or hate? Respect or division?
Let’s begin with the commandment. Another word for “honor” is “respect”. Adults are quick to accuse youth today of lacking in respect. It is obvious that there is a widespread lack of respect, a lack of respect for schoolteachers, police, authority figures and parents. Forty plus years ago, when I was a pastor in Minnesota, the county sheriff said, “If a kid doesn’t have respect for his parents and home, he will have none for the school, none for the police, none for the church, none for the community.” He has a valid point. And, certainly youth today could make life much easier for themselves by learning respect.
But, where do youths learn respect? How do they learn how to respect their elders? By being respected! How can a youth respect parents if the parents haven’t respected him/her? A family that shows respect is a home in which the atmosphere reeks with awe, reverence, and respect for the children. Respect them because your children are gifts from God, placed here on this earth in your family for a holy purpose.
John Trebonious was a schoolteacher who always took off his hat in the presence of his pupils. Someone remarked, “Why do you, the elder, show respect to children?” Trebonious answered, “Who knows, there may be among my pupils a great poet, or a great preacher, or a great philosopher, one who may change the course of history!” One of his pupils was Martin Luther, a man who did change the course of history. Will it ever be known how much the respect of this one teacher affected Luther? To be taught by a teacher who respects the pupils’ feelings, ideas, views, is a great privilege. A home should also be filled with respect for the children.
In one of my churches, we all worked hard with a teenage boy who was beginning to drift to the street. He was thinking of quitting school. He was lowering his ideals day by day. He had a very low opinion of himself. His mother decided to encourage him to go out for football. He was a big boy, but he had never shown any interest in athletics. He decided to give it a try and was enjoying football until his father heard about it, and laughed at him. He teased, “YOU go out for football? Ha-ha.” The boy “coincidentally” sprained his ankle, enabling him to drop out of the team and still save face. The father had no respect for his son. In his father’s eyes, the boy didn’t amount to much, and the boy was proving that his father was right. There are few things in life more important to a boy than the respect of his father. There are few things in life more important to a boy or girl than the pride of their parents. We often become what the important people in our lives want us to become. I’m grateful for having been reared in a family where we children were treated with respect. Our parents believed in us. They expected high accomplishments from us and were so proud when we achieved them, and they were supportive when we failed, as long as we had tried. My parents didn’t even laugh at me when I told them I wanted to become a minister!
In contrast to the father who thought little of his son are those parents who show disrespect by spoiling and overindulging their children. The other evening I happened to catch the TV show “Super Nanny.” The nanny worked with parents who had no discipline, no structure, and were intimidated by their children. The children were in charge. The children decided when they would go to bed. The house was a mess. The children refused to pick up after themselves. They were bullies in school. The parents didn’t dare discipline their kids in case the children would be angry or have their feelings hurt. In other words, the parents had absolutely no respect for their children, no respect for their children’s ability to accept responsibility for their actions, do chores, make positive contributions to the family. Can you imagine how those children will treat classmates, teachers, police, future employers? What a prescription for disaster!
How can children honor their parents when they have not been respected and have not learned how to respect?
Furthermore, do children have an obligation to respect and obey parents when the parents are wrong, or uninformed? Jesus said discipleship causes division and sets parents and children against each other. Recently, a teenage girl knocked on the door of the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Home. She had run away from home because her mother was a prostitute who brought her clients home with her. She would lock her daughter in the bathroom where she slept in the bathtub. But, now that her daughter was of age, her mother wanted to use her in the family business. The girl ran to the Methodist Home, knocked on the door and said, “I heard you take care of kids.” Should she have honored and obeyed her mother? Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace, but division.”
William Willimon, now a bishop, was chaplain of Duke University when he received an irate phone call from a father. His daughter had been active in the student movement, had now graduated, and was planning to go to Africa on a two-year mission. Her father couldn’t understand why she was throwing away her hard earned degree, and he blamed the chaplain for putting crazy ideas in her head. Chaplain Willimon responded, “Now wait a minute. You’re the one who had her baptized. You sent her to Sunday School and the youth ski trips. You wanted her to become a nice, respectable Presbyterian, but you got a disciple!” Should she honor and obey her father, get a well-paying prestigious job and forget about being a missionary?
Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does hate her father cannot be my disciple.” Hate is a strong word. Jesus didn’t mean an emotional or personal hatred. He was using hate to renounce any obstacle that is preventing a person from being a disciple. The word translated “hate” means a total rejection of anything and anyone who would block absolute commitment to Jesus Christ.
Let’s look at the Gospel lesson this morning, Luke 12.49-53. Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth.” He was referring to his mission. He came to bring the kingdom of God to purify, to ignite. He knew his mission would cause fierce opposition and conflict, like fire. He knew that inaugurating the reign of God would involve suffering. He knew a baptism of martyrdom was in the picture. Jesus said, “I have a baptism with which to be baptized.” He knew his mission would lead to suffering. He then lamented, “What stress I am under until it is completed!” The times required drastic measures. His enemies were organizing. They were gaining strength. A baptism of fire was around the corner. Those who would be his disciples were going to face opposition and suffering. Therefore, they needed to be focused. They could not be burdened with extraneous details. If division occurred, they must choose to follow Jesus. They had to focus on the task at hand, and give their all, give a total commitment. Jesus was rallying the forces, motivating them, preparing them for battle.
There is still a battle today. The forces of evil are rampant. Jesus still calls disciples to the task. Jesus calls us to do his mission, do his work, and doing God’s work requires focus and total commitment.
Jesus calls families to discipleship. Families need to be focused. Families need to be totally committed, working together, united behind and with Jesus. When a family takes Jesus’ call seriously, when everyone in the family is committed to Jesus, then there is respect, mutual respect and support.
The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church state, “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity.” Such a family is not necessarily serene and peaceful. In such a family there is striving, but not stifling. There is tension, but it is a productive, dynamic tension. In such a family each individual is treated with respect where talents, dreams and responses to God’s call are recognized and appreciated. There may be differences as fathers struggle with daughters and sons who want to do mission work, but a commitment to Jesus and a focus on Jesus resolves the conflicts. A critical question for parents is, “When do we let go?” Heavy prayer is then required as parents and children seek to be faithful and responsible.
Honor or division? The conflict between the passages is resolved when commitment to Jesus is first, followed by mutual respect.
© 2007 Douglas I. Norris