Tomorrow is Mothering Sunday. But what are its origins? Greeks and Romans worshipped their mother goddesses; pre-reformation churches honoured the Virgin Mary at this time of year and presented their own mothers with flowers; apprentices and servants were encouraged to go home and visit their mothers. It had all but died out by the nineteenth century; it was resurrected in the twentieth. Was it just a ploy by retailers to increase trade, rather like St Valentine’s Day and Halloween? Perhaps.
Notwithstanding its dodgy origins, it is an uncomfortable time for many in a typical congregation. Some people even stay away from church. Men might expect something soppy and trite, a token gesture to femeninity. Single people might feel left out, rudely reminded of their status. Unpleasant memories might be recalled by those grieving deceased parents or wishing to forget unpleasant ones.And the poor mother who has lost her child sheds a secret tear.
Nevertheless, the honouring of mothers is incorporated into the Decalogue:
Exodus 20:12: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
A slightly longer version exists elsewhere: Deut 5:16: 16 ‘Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
Let's therefore look at that expression ‘Honour your father and your mother'.
Who is to be honoured?
Our natural parents. Our mother was the place where God created us:
Psalm 139:13: For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvellous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skilfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.
The creation of a baby is a miracle: our mothers are blessed to have accommodated that miracle.
Sometimes our biological parents are not responsible for bringing us up; nor for leading us in the faith. Therefore we have Spiritual Parents:
Romans 16:13: Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Rufus and Paul could have been biological brothers, but this is unlikely. Rather, Rufus' mother looked after Paul, and perhaps provided him with that motherly comfort and service that time and distance had denied him. She 'mothered' him- in the best sense of the word.
Why should we honour our parents?
Deut 5:16: 16 ‘Honour your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may be well with you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
Because God commands it. Simple. God has appointed the order by which parents are greater than their children: you might be better educated than they, have more common sense, be a better person, but you must still honour them.
- ‘That your days may be long’
Longer earthly days probably has a common-sense understanding rather than something overly spiritual: a well brought up child is less likely to get into a fight or careless accident because they have been well-drilled with manners, consideration and reason.
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.
- Children need teaching the difference between right and wrong
God has appointed human government, including parents, to restrain sin. This usually refers to courts, magistrates and rulers, but also to the unit of government operating in a family household- parents. God uses a parent's discipline to restrict a child's natural propensity to sin and give us a sense of morality. Furthermore, we’d be hypocrites not to honour them. ‘Do to others as you’d have them do to you’. When we have our own children, do we not expect the very things our parents expected of us?
- Mothers are a picture of, and a reminder of, God:
Matthew 23:37: 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
The Lord here likens Himself to a mother in His dealings with his wayward and foolish people.
The Law says ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death' and Proverbs 20:20 'Whoever curses his father or his mother, His lamp will be put out in deep darkness'. He who curses God is a fool and a reprobate; he who curses his parents, whose role reflects God's, is no better.
Honour: this means to respect, obey and care for.
Respect means to to hold in high regard. Not only their characters and attributes, but because of their status. God's ordering is such that they are always superior to their children in terms of natural ranking.
Col 3:20: Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing to the Lord.
We must obey them when their commands do not conflict with God’s will. When I was brought up and I dared to question my mother's commands, the only reason offered me, typically, was ‘Because I told you so’. This reminds me of Divine Command- we obey God simply because He is God; no reason or justification is required for His commands.
In old age, the roles of parent and child are often reversed. They can lose their memories, physical abilities as well as other things. He who was once nursed, becomes a nurse.
In Matthew 15 we read:
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honour your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honour his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me.9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” 10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.”
By finding excuses not to provide for elderly parents, Jesus is quite clear that these Pharisees are defiled. It is better therefore to give our tithes to our parents, if they are in need, than the church offertory bag.
Paul, while discussing this commandment in Ephesians 6, comments that it 'is the first commandment with promise', ie 'we shall live long in the land'. But we do not live in the land. The land is Israel. I live in England. Of Abraham though, we read
‘for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.’ Hebrews 11:10
The land of the Christian is not earthly Israel. It's certainly not earthly America or Britain. Our land is heaven, or the paradise ushered in by Christ at His return. The promise of the commandment therefore refers to heaven, for the New Covenant believer.
In short: we are not saved by honouring our parents; we are saved, THEREFORE we honour our parents.