Mark 7: The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”
He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
“ ‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”
And he continued, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)—then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
[The New International Version. (2011). (Mk 7:1–13). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.]
One of the nastiest things you will ever see is a Christian who is a total selfish jerk with a verse to back it all up. So what you come across from time to time are parents who neglect their children, sleep around, divorce, and then remarry – all the while saying this is all okay before God, because of course, “God wants me to be happy.” Likewise you can get what you have here with the Pharisees – young men and women who leave the house and disregard their parents entirely in order to pursue God, or so they think.
No – the will of God is clear in Scripture – honour your Father and Mother. And what Jesus hints at here is what some have argued is explicit in the Old Testament; namely, that “honour” does not just mean some sort of respect for authority – it is that – but it is much more. Honour means take care of your parents physically. It means make sure they are fed and clothed. The idea here is that they took care of you for the first 18 years of your life – so now you need to take care of them for their last 18 years. “Honour Father and Mother” is a civil law. It’s a social arrangement.
But the trouble is that we are selfish. And we use “spirituality” as a cover for selfishness. Don’t do that. This is perhaps the nastiest little sin among Christians. Most of us are guilty of it. Who has ever broken up with a boyfriend or girlfriend and given the reason that “it wasn’t God’s will.” Well that may or may not be true – but give some actual reasons. Explain yourself – the other person deserves an explanation. Don’t be the kind of person who goes from job to job, resigning because “it just doesn’t seem like God’s will.” No – commit to what you start out to do. Grow in integrity (oh what a dirty word for us). The fact is you will be better for it if you keep your word – fulfill your obligations and make good on your promises. And central in all of that is your duty to your family, your church, your boss, and your society. You will be more spiritual for it!
Now – the truth is, many parents do hurt their kids. That’s because of sin. Kids also hurt parents. That’s also because of sin. The reality is that we must all answer to God himself. And God calls you to honour your parents based on their position, regardless of how honourable they are. You honour a policeman even if they are a putz. You honour them because they have a badge. So it is with your parents – honour them – you don’t even have to like them per se! You may find their personality totally different and weird – but honour them. And the first place to start is to give up the attitude that you are better than them. You aren’t. (Even if you are – no Christian ever has the right to think they are better than others.) That’s what the Pharisees did all day long, not realizing that from all our hearts come “sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (v.22). We all need grace. So try extending grace to your parents when they need it.
Ultimately, the command of Jesus here is to grow up into the kind of man or woman who contributes and produces and can actually take care of parents. Part of this, of course, is work that needs to be done in the heart – are you bitter against your parents? Do you judge your parents? Do you think you are better than they are? This is the great temptation of youth. It is arrogance. It is so easy to judge your parents, but if you want to learn to be a man or woman of God you must learn from your parents. You must “process” your relationship with them – in other words – forgive them. Even if you can’t make them treat you better, let go of the bitterness. The sooner you can get over your bitterness, frustration, resentment, the sooner you will mature into the man or woman God wants you to be. So suck it up, ask Jesus to forgive you and to help you, and then learn to show them love even if you feel like is none in return. Do hard things.
Mostly, grow in your walk with God. The teenage years are a time of finding out who you are. So find out who you are. Pursue different things. Figure out your beliefs, your view of God, your view of politics. Learn a trade or a skill of some kind. Become independent. Become your own man. Become your own woman. “Stand on your own two feet.” This is all good. This is all natural. But then take that independence and from that place of maturity and strength, be a blessing to those around you. Bless and give and enrich others. And start first with your parents. How can you show them you really care? How can you love them with thoughtfulness and sacrifice? Think about it and then act on it.