“Youth today love luxury.  They have bad manners, contempt for authority, no respect for older people, and talk nonsense when they should work.  Young people do not stand up any longer when adults enter the room.  They contradict their parents, talk too much in company, guzzle their food, lay their legs on the table, and tyrannize their elders.”   Sound familiar?  This sentiment has been repeated in nearly the same words since these were spoken in the fifth century B.C.!  According to Plato, this was the complaint of Socrates about the youth of his day.[1]  Granted that the opinion we hold of rising generations is often born more from fear than from first-hand experience, we should not be surprised to learn that youthful disdain for aged authority is nothing new.  It is as old as Eden.  Adam had no earthly father.  He was an immediate creation of God – formed from the dust of the earth and then filled with life by the very breath of God.  What was Adam’s filial response to his God?  “I don’t need you.  I don’t want you telling me what to do.  I don’t need you to tell me right from wrong.  I am my own man, so just leave me alone.”  It is no wonder that the transition from the first table of commands to the second table of commands addresses this very rebellion: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.”  As the Old Testament begins with a son’s rebellion against his Father it ends with a view to the future turning of the hearts of children back to their fathers (Malachi 4:6).  Since we, as Christians, live in this age of fulfillment (1 Cor. 10:11), this turning of hearts should be evident and increasing in our community.

In many ways this call for children to honor their parents is not counter-cultural.  Everyone prefers civil youngsters to hellions, even if they are cultivating the latter with instant gratification of every whim.  But what about the challenge to care for aging parents, especially when this could potentially deter me from my career path.  In August 2003 over 14,000 people died (mostly elderly) in a heat-wave in France.  Outraged by this atrocity, the French parliament demanded to know why twenty percent of the medical professionals went on vacation during the heat-wave.[2]  It seems to me that a more apropos query would have been to ask where all the adult children were.  Eric Klineberg analyzed a similar calamity in Chicago in 1995.  In his book Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago Klineberg noted that only 2% of victims were Latino, while 25% of the city’s poor and sick were Latino.  Ratios were tragically higher in black and white communities.  Many social commentators noted that the Latino community had stronger family values than others in the Windy City, which meant that the elderly were not left alone.  These analyses make us uncomfortable as they suggest that the unsettled nature and frenetic pace of our “pursuit of happiness” may make the fifth commandment seem irrelevant as our parents age.

Christ rebuked the Pharisees for allowing their tradition to trump this commandment from God (Matt 15.4-6).  Might we also be open to rebuke for allowing our tradition and worldly values to displace this commandment?  As the children of God we have the calling and grace from God to have our hearts turned to our parents.  Children, what needs to change to walk worthy of this calling?  Parents, what are you doing to encourage Christ-likeness in this area of your children’s lives (John 19:26-27)?


[1] Recorded in Philip Graham Ryken, Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003), 131.

[2] “France heat wave death toll set at 14,802” PARIS (AP) at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/weather/news/2003-09-25-france-heat_x.htm.