Editor’s Note: This piece is sourced from the author’s sermon, Honor Your Mother and Father at Forefront Brooklyn on June 30, 2019. You can listen to the full sermon here

I think by my family’s standard, I am a total rebel.  When I reflect back on my life growing up, I feel like I’d find any excuse to rebel against my parents, even if I didn’t do it on purpose. Just by nature, I went against most things they wanted me to do.

I remember in high school wanting to get a pager, since that’s when you did when you were a Hong Kong kid in the 90s. But my parents refused to pay for it.  So I got a job in secret to pay my pager bill. I worked as a typist for a small magazine publication. My mother found out, rang the editor and told him to fire me.  I was so embarrassed. I was also 14.

I even used my faith as an act of rebellion against my parents.  I grew up in a non-Christian home and when I converted at the age of 12, I became so radical and outspoken about my views, that they thought I had been brainwashed and joined a cult. And so they banned me from going to church. 

Heartbroken, I told my youth pastor who responded by saying, that the Bible says to Honor my Mother and Father and that I needed to obey my parents and not attend church or youth group.  I was devastated…. You know by this point, I was a pretty solid Christian and I wanted to do the right thing.  So I obeyed my parents and stopped going to church and youth group. The youth pastor would visit me at school at lunchtime to pray for me, and a couple of people from my youth group would write me letters to encourage me.   

t was all still so strange to me because I couldn’t understand how honoring my parents was more important than being a Christian and going to church.   

Fast forward and after a couple of years I started going to youth group behind my parents’ back and attending church without them knowing and finally “confessed” to them, after which they let me go so long as I didn’t get baptized or give the church any money – I’m not sure what they thought was in the pool at the YMCA – but regardless – baptism was off the table.

But it didn’t stop there. As I got older, my faith has always been a point of contention for my family and so this verse Honor your Mother and Father has always been so difficult for me.  They didn’t seem to understand why I was so overzealous about being a Christian.  They couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just go to church on Sunday like everyone else.  Instead I had to volunteer, go on mission trips, take part in street outreaches.  

They didn’t understand why I gave so much of my time and resources to the church and they were actually quite fearful of me giving everything up and working in ministry.  Aaaaand… look at me now.

I mean I get it.  I know they worked so hard for me to go to the best schools, to get into college, to pay for it all so that I could be a doctor or a lawyer.  They only wanted the best for me and so as far as they were concerned, everything I was doing went against what they thought was the best for me and the worst part was that I was dishonoring them.

In my culture, dishonoring your parents is the worst thing you could possibly do.  Because they birthed you, and fed you, and bathed you – they sacrifice everything for you.

I’m sure your upbringing wasn’t too dissimilar. Who recalls being told anything that sounds like this: “I’m your Father/Mother, listen to me and do what you’re told.” Or  “as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules.”

But what we’ve done to the commandment: “Honor your Mother and Father” is that we’ve butchered it to mean “Obey your Mother and Father

But this isn’t what God intended with this commandment.  To understand what God intended, let’s quickly cover why God gave Moses the Ten Commandments to begin with.

God sent the commandments to the Israelites as a set of rules so they could start living life with meaning once again and be compassionate and loving to one another.  For centuries they had been enslaved and under the rules of system where you built wealth and prestige on the backs of others, now that they were free, they needed to build their identity and sense of belonging to one another.  

This was the start of the Israelites forming their tribe and the Ten Commandments were a set of rules to protect their tribe and foster loyalty to the tribe and each other by cultivating responsibility towards one another and honor to one another.

The commandment, Honor your Mother and Father, was first and foremost, a commandment to treat your parents well.  But its purpose also laidin the words to follow:

“Honor your mother and father, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

God wanted for the Ancient Israelites to unify and build up their nation right and God wanted them to do that so they could secure the land that would be given to them?  To do that, they needed to stay loyal to their tribe, because they would have power in numbers. They wouldn’t lose their land in battles to neighboring nations because of their numbers. 

So to honor your mother and father was committing to stay with them and be loyal to their ways.  The message that God was giving was, stay with your family and your tribe, so that in unifying as a nation, you can hold down the security of your land.

So there is a link between how we treat our parents and our longevity on our land.  If we don’t honor our parents, we leave, we might possibly leave our tribe altogether, making our nation more vulnerable to losing battles.

And that’s exactly what happened to the Israelites during the Babylonian exile. The Israelites lost their land to the Babylonians. Ezekiel writes about this very connection in Chapter 22 where he cites the Israelite people’s contempt for their mother and father amongst many sins, as the reason for their exile.

We can see how when the Israelites lose their sense of belonging and responsibility to one another by breaking the 10 commandments, that’s when they lose their land.  The very place that holds them as a body of people.

Part 2 forthcoming! Stay tuned.

  • Mira (she/her/hers) is taking a break from ministry to pursue a MDiv in Washington DC this fall. She is also on the board of the W/ Collective, a network for progressive Christian faith leaders. In her spare time, she enjoys playing capoeira, catching up with friends over too much coffee and doing crafts with her three daughters.