104 Q. What is God’s will for you
in the fifth commandment?
A. That I honor, love, and be loyal
to my father and mother
and all those in authority over me;^1
that I submit myself with proper obedience
to all their good teaching and discipline;
and also that I be patient with their failings—^2
for through them God chooses to rule us.^3
^1 Eph. 6:1[-9]; Col. 3:18, 20-24; Eph. 5:22; Prov. 1:8; 4:1; 15:20; 20:20; Exod. 21:17; Rom. 13:[1-5]
^2 Prov. 23:22; Gen. 9:25; 1 Pet. 2:18
^3 Eph. 6:4,9; Col. 3:19, 21; Rom. 13:[1-5]; Matt. 22:21
LORD’S DAY 39 (Q/A 104)
“Slave to No One, Servant of Christ”
This Q/A, and several of the Scriptural proof-texts attached to Q/A 104, have been abused by slaveholders/slavemasters to oppress and dehumanize their subjects; it’s been used to subjugate whole nations; it’s been misused to rationalize abusive relationships and domestic violence.
Lord Acton’s apt observation holds true: “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” In human hands and in the human will, we take God’s good gifts and twist it for our own ends and our own purposes; by dehumanizing our neighbor, we dehumanize ourselves, and become monstrous savages who commodify people, who monetize our relationships for our own ends.
Despite the misuses and abuses of the fifth commandment, Q/A 104’s explication of it, and the Scriptural proof-texts appended therein, there is great value in what is being said.
Do we honor our parents (or those whom we regard as our parents), whether they are living or dead, in what we do, in what we say. Would they be proud of your action or your speech?
There’s a delight I have in seeing how my sons give me so many chances to throw a baseball or football, like as if we were playing for the first time. As my sons mature and grow in their strength and accuracy, they’ve already come to know what I’ve lived with all my life – I’m not a Babe Ruth, nor am I a Joe Montana. And with them, that’s ok. They give me the chance to throw yet another ball – sometimes the football spirals, more often it wobbles like a penguin flying in the air. And the chances they give me honor me for what I am able to teach them, even within my limitations.
Q/A 104’s beauty comes in the realistic recognition that all those whom we look up to fail us in small ways and big ways. Our family, our friends, our superiors…every single human being fails us; we fail ourselves. We are disappointed, hurt, wounded on every side. There’s no surprise there.
One of the powerful affirmations of the Reformed theological tradition is its view of humanity: we are 100% sinful as we are 100% redeemed. The nicest, kindest person also has within, a heart that lurks with deception, trickery and cunning. Likewise, the meanest, baddest, rudest person has an element of God’s grace within. This is not a semi-Pelagian reduction of the human nature; this is a true recognition that all of us, without exception, fall short of the glory of God.
Over the years, my sons have called me their hero. But they also know, and I know, that while I may be heroic at times, there are many more days when I rely upon their abundant forgiveness, patience and love towards me.
When we are servants to Jesus Christ and Christ’s way of seeing and doing things, we are free, we are set free to see ourselves and all people the way that Christ sees us and the way Christ relates to us. In that way, we become bound not to ourselves, or the dictates of others, or guided by the definitions that others put on us, but by Christ. At the same time, we can receive the good graces from all people – what they have taught us, what they continually impart to us to show us God’s love – and enfold that into our lives and into our being.
In his treatise On Christian Teaching, St. Augustine provided a helpful hermeneutic to discern and determine whether a particular doctrine, and, by extension, a Scriptural interpretation, was on track with the overall Scriptural witness, in sync with the ancient, ecumenical theological traditions of the one holy catholic apostolic Church, and whether they comported with the thrust of God’s redemption in Christ through the Spirit. His hermeneutic has been dubbed the “rule of love”: does the doctrine/interpretation enable the Church to love God more and deeply and to love neighbor more and deeply?
Augustine’s “rule of love” is most applicable to Q/A 104 and the application of it in our lives and in our relating to one another and how others relate to us. With the sins and failings of ourselves, of our parents, of our family, friends, neighbors, superiors, etc., are the graces that we offer and receive enabling us and them to love God and love neighbor more and deeply?