The Fifth Commandment – A Christian Science Perspective, Part One

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

The Fifth Commandment is unique for two reasons. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments with a “promise.” It is also the link between the first four Commandments, which speak to our relationship with God, and the last five, which speak to our relationship with our fellow beings. There are those who feel the Fifth Commandment should be included in the first group; others feel it belongs in the second group. There is no reason, it seems to me, in light of the teachings of Christian Science, why it is not meant to be part of each group.

In this lesson on the Fifth Commandment, we will explore the many ways to obey the command to honor father and mother — morally and spiritually — based upon the teachings in the Old and New Testament, especially the words and example of Jesus, as well as the teachings of Christian Science, as taught by Mary Baker Eddy in her textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. I will also offer suggestions for teaching this Commandment to your children or Sunday School class.


Until doing research on the Fifth Commandment, I was unaware that the commandment was originally intended as a warning for grown children not to neglect their elderly parents. I knew that family was an important part of Jewish life and that children were taught to obey and respect their parents, but the necessity for the Fifth Commandment was an eye-opener.

In some societies, in those days, the elderly were often sent out to the wilderness “to be eaten of beasts or to die of exposure,” if they became a burden to their families, as the Interpreter’s Bible and other commentaries tell us. We see, then, that this Commandment is not just exhorting little children to mind their parents, but for adults to value their elderly parents as worthy of care in their old age.

The Interpreter’s Bible, A Commentary in Twelve Volumes explains: “Family solidarity has always been one of the characteristics of Israel. It was so much a part of the social texture of life that it would seem that no special commandment was necessary to protect parents. To a child growing up in a Jewish home, the Fifth Commandment would be as superfluous as ‘Thou must breathe’ or ‘Thou must eat.’ Like the others in this code of laws, it is directed to the adult citizen who is burdened with the care of an aged parent, and is a warning against the heathen habit of abandoning the aged when they can no longer support themselves. The reward for such piety as is here commanded is a stable society in which health and long life can be enjoyed.” (IB, Vol. 1, pg 985)

In the early Hebrew society, minor children had little choice but to honor their parents. We read in Exodus and Leviticus that if children hit or cursed their parents, they would be put to death! In Proverbs 30:17 we read this warning: “The eye that mocketh at his father, and despiseth to obey his mother, the ravens of the valley shall pick it out, and the young eagles shall eat it.” [Lovely image, eh? No wonder I never heard it read on Sunday]

A statement I do like is found in The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible in its commentary on the Fifth Commandment. It points in the direction of metaphysics: “In the broader sense discipline in the family, where the mature wisdom of parents overrules the impulse and prejudice of youth, is the basis of an ordered society.” (pg. 54)

If we think about this, we can see how we should have our own impulsive thoughts — no matter what our age — be subjugated or disciplined by wisdom. We should always honor wisdom.


Jesus is the Way-shower. In his life, as recorded in the Gospels, we see how Jesus demonstrated obedience to the laws of God. We also see how he taught and lived a higher sense of the laws by permeating his actions with the motive of love. This brought a new sense of freedom. The original intent or spirit of the various laws of God, including the Ten Commandments, was often hidden under layers of human opinion and years of traditional forms of rituals. Jesus cut through the old interpretations and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. His interpretations were radical. From Jesus we have examples and lessons to ponder today, on how to honor both our
earthly parents, as well as our heavenly Father-Mother God. We can explore how the moral and spiritual qualities of true motherhood and fatherhood can be “honored” in our own thoughts and actions, and how we can appreciate these qualities in others. The following stories of Jesus would be good starting points to discussions of the Fifth Commandment with our children or Sunday School classes:


In the second chapter of Luke, we find the only story from the childhood of Jesus. After reading the commentary of William Barclay which follows the story below, you will see how this episode illustrates perfectly how Jesus demonstrated for us the necessity to honor God by recognizing that he is Father-Mother, without dishonoring our human parents. The story goes:

“Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day’s journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple,
sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he
went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (Luke 2:41-52)

In his book on the Gospel of Luke, part of the Daily Study Bible Series, William Barclay makes the following comments on this episode [Note: Barclay uses a different Bible translation, so some key phrases will not match the King James Version]:

“A Jewish boy became a man when he was twelve years of age. Then he became ‘a son of the law’ and had to take the obligations of the law upon him. So at twelve Jesus for the first time went to the Passover. We may well imagine how the holy city and the Temple and the sacred ritual fascinated him. . . . When his parents returned he lingered behind. It was not through carelessness that they did not miss him. Usually the women in a caravan started out much earlier than the men for they traveled more slowly. The men started later and traveled faster and the two sections would not meet
until the evening encampment was reached. It was Jesus’ first Passover. No doubt Joseph thought he was with Mary, Mary thought that he was with Joseph and not till the evening camp did they miss him. . . . They returned to Jerusalem to search for him. For the Passover season it was the custom for the Sanhedrin to meet in public in the Temple court to discuss, in the presence of all who would listen, religious and theological questions. It was there they found Jesus. We must not think of it as a scene where a precocious boy was dominating a crowd of his seniors. ‘Hearing and asking questions’ is the regular Jewish phrase for a student learning from his teachers. Jesus was listening to the discussions and eagerly searching for knowledge like an avid student. . . . And now comes one of the key passages in the life of Jesus. ‘Your FATHER and I,’ said Mary, ‘have been looking for you anxiously.’ ‘Did you not know,’ said Jesus, ‘that I must be in MY FATHER’S house’? See how very gently but very definitely Jesus takes the name ‘father’ from Joseph and gives it to God. At some time Jesus must have discovered his own unique relationship to God . . . As the years went on he must have had thoughts; and then at this first Passover, with manhood dawning, there came in a sudden blaze of realization the consciousness that he was in a unique sense the Son of God. . . . Here we have the story of the day when Jesus discovered who he was. And mark this — the discovery did not make him proud. It did not make him look down on his humble parents, the gentle Mary and the hard-working Joseph. He went home and he was obedient to them. The fact that he was God’s Son made him the perfect son of his human parents. The real man of God does not despise earthly ties; just because he is God’s man he discharges human duties with supreme fidelity.” (WB, The Gospel of Luke, pages 29-30)

The last point in the story is an important one for young people to see. In Christian Science, we do stress that man is God’s “image and likeness,” and so we are God’s “children.” This is our most important relationship to understand and cherish. But, that does not give license to disobedience and ingratitude toward our earthly parents, as we shall see in the example of Jesus, and in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy.


The next story that includes Jesus and his mother is that of the Wedding at Cana. The part that is pertinent is what Jesus replies to Mary after she tells Jesus there is no more wine left. It appears she wants him to solve the problem. Most likely she has already become aware of his divine powers, and is urging him to “go public.” But Jesus appears to rebuke her sharply. Let’s read the story first:

“And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they
filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now. This
beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.” (John 2:1-11)

It appears from this translation in the King James Version of the Bible, that Jesus spoke rather rudely to his mother — it doesn’t sound as if he “honored” her very well. What are we to make of this? Was Jesus disobeying the Fifth Commandment? Thank goodness for Bible scholars. Once again I turn to my current favorite, William Barclay, for his commentary on this passage:

“The Authorized Version translation of Jesus’ reply makes it sound very discourteous. It makes him say: ‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’ That is indeed a translation of the words, but it does not in any way give the tone. . . . The phrase, ‘What have I to do with you?’ was a common conversational phrase. When it was uttered angrily and sharply it did indicate complete disagreement and reproach, but when it was spoken gently it indicated not so much reproach but misunderstanding. It means:
‘Don’t worry; you don’t quite understand what is going on; leave things to me, and I will settle them in my own way.’ Jesus was simply telling Mary to leave things to him, that he would have his own way of dealing with the situation. . . . The word ‘woman (gunai)’ is also misleading. It sounds to us very rough and abrupt. But it is the same word that Jesus used on the cross to address Mary as he left her to the care of John. In Homer, it is the title by which Odysseus addresses Penelope, his well-loved wife. It is the title by which Augustus, the Roman emperor, addressed Cleopatra, the famous Egyptian queen. So far from being a rough and discourteous way of address, it was a title of respect. We have no way of speaking in English which exactly renders it; but it is better to translate it lady, which gives at least the courtesy in it.” (WB, The Gospel of John, pages 114-115)

There are a number of insights to be found in this episode at Cana. Give thought to what must have gone on in the life of Jesus before his public ministry that would cause his mother to turn to Jesus to solve the problem of the lack of wine. How many “miracles” had Mary already witnessed? Had Jesus been timid about using this power in public? Is this why it appears Mary may have felt a need to push him into action? Is this a quality of true motherhood, that of “leading” children; or was there a false sense of motherhood, that of anxious ambition or pushiness? These could be questions to ask in Sunday School to get a discussion started on “honoring” motherhood.

With this episode in mind, Mary Baker Eddy writes in Science and Health: “May Christ, Truth, be present at every bridal altar to turn the water into wine and to give to human life an inspiration by which man’s spiritual and eternal existence may be discerned.” (S&H, pg. 65)

It was Mary’s purity and spirituality which enabled her to first discern the Christ, and so perhaps it was natural for her to want others to share in this inspiration? That discernment and conception of our true spiritual nature should always be honored wherever found and shared.



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