Today’s Gospel hit close to home for me because I’m a man with two sons, and they’re old enough now for me to lean on them to do quite a lot around the house. We actually have a list: do the recycling, take out the garbage, pick up dog poo…And then my wife gives them chores: clean up your room, make your bed, dust and wipe down the baseboards… I must say, we are very blessed to have two boys that, for the most part, do their chores without grumbling or complaining. They are respectful and obedient, for the most part…
A child’s willingness to obey has been a struggle since the beginning, and in our society today, it is difficult to teach obedience to any authority at all–especially toward parents, it seems. Scripture, though, is full of verses that teach the importance of obedience toward parents. Honor for father and mother is the 4th commandment, and it begins the commandment to love thy neighbor. You remember that Jesus summed up all the commandments in only one: Love God and Love your neighbor.
It’s important to note that love of neighbor, the Great Commandment of Jesus, begins with honoring one’s parents. We honor our parents when we do two things: Respect and Obey. When a parent teaches respect and obedience to their child they train that child in respect and obedience toward God. Ephesians 6 reads, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” Parents have a right to expect obedience!
Jesus certainly knew this commandment well when he told the parable of the two sons that we heard today. The crowd easily recognizes that it was not the son’s words that mattered most, but whether or not he actually did the father’s will. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
But if you could imagine a continuum from bad to best on the obedience scale, I don’t think either of these sons is really doing all that well! I’m glad when my sons do what I ask, but I definitely wouldn’t want defiance to go along with it! What I expect of my kids, what I think you have every right to expect from yours, and what God expects from us, is that we say, “yes” and do what is asked. That’s respect and obedience.
Out of respect we do not argue or defy our parents, and out of obedience, we do what we’re asked/or told. I don’t think parents are asking too much here! The Catechism, paragraph 2214 begins the Church’s teachings on the duties of children, and paragraph 2221 begins the duties of parents. The church teaches that respect for parents begins with a grateful heart: an attitude of gratitude. Quoting the book of Sirach, we read, “Remember that through your parents you were born: what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?” (2215) The answer, of course, is, “nothing.” But respect and obedience is a good place to start.
This teaching does not apply only to children and their parents. It applies also to all those who exercise the authority that God has given them. The fourth commandment includes extended family, honor and affection toward elders and ancestors, and even includes “pupils to teachers, employees to employers, subordinates to leaders, citizens to their country, and to those who administer or govern it.” (2199) Teachers, employers, and government leaders are experiencing a shocking amount of disrespect!
I think we all have a lot of work to do in this regard. There is far too much disrespect in our culture today. In the 1960s the most popular show on T.V. was Father Knows Best, and by 1980 it was Married with Children with Al Bundy–a clown to his family, who endured ridicule, disrespect and outright defiance–and America loved it. Now we’re dealing with it.
When respect does not begin in the home, it does not extend to law enforcement, nor local and national leaders. We don’t always have to agree with their decisions but each of us, all of us, can show respect and Christian charity to those who govern, whether we voted for them or not. As a Marine, my duty was to serve the Commander In Chief–whether I voted for him or not. I served him and his office with honor and respect.
As adults we want respect and obedience from our children, and rightfully so, but if we’re not modeling respect for leaders, not obeying legitimate laws and lawful leaders, if we are not caring for and providing for our own elderly parents, then we are acting hypocritically. Respect and obedience applies to adults too.
Paragraph 2218 reads, “The fourth commandment reminds grown children of their responsibilities toward their parents. As much as they can, they must give them material and moral support in old age and in times of illness, loneliness, or distress.” A very difficult teaching indeed for those charged with the care of the aged. So much patience is required.
St. Paul gives us the secret to respect and obedience. Listen to this, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory: rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others. Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.”
We have a lot of work to do. Our country has a lot of work to do. It starts with selflessness, humility, Christian charity, and a Christ-like attitude. All of us need to get over ourselves and show some respect and obedience. We must stop acting like dictators and start acting more like disciples. Amen?