JESUS HONORS TRUE KINSHIP:
We read the following episode about Jesus in Matthew 12:46-50: “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
That story is also briefly related in Mark 3:31-35 and Luke 8:19-21. Taken out of context from the rest of Jesus’ teachings and life, it might appear from these verses that Jesus was being disrespectful of his mother, and, therefore, was not honoring her according to the Fifth Commandment. But we know from his other actions and statements that he loved Mary, and he urged others to fulfill their duties to their parents, except when there is a clear conflict with performing our duty to God. In the instance above, Jesus is showing us the spirit of true kinship — that when we share common interests, experience, goals, and obedience with others, we can rightly call them family. Note, he does not offer the term “father” to such kinsmen; that term was reserved only for God.
In a similar vein, we read later in Mark 10:28-31: “Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.”
Again, would it be breaking the Fifth Commandment to walk away from our responsibilities of caring for our family, including, perhaps, a needy father or mother, for the sake of following Jesus and his “good news”? Why would Jesus say this, if it appears to be in disobedience to God’s law? In this story, what Peter wanted to know was whether or not he and the other disciples who had left their homes and jobs to follow Jesus, would receive any kind of reward for their sacrifice. Jesus is telling him that, yes, they would receive much more, albeit with persecutions. It is true that when God directs us into new paths, our family members may not be ready to come along with us, or are not able to walk at our speed. They may be vehemently opposed to our new religious beliefs. Therefore, a separation may be necessary — either mentally or physically. But, Jesus is not telling us here to abandon our legal and moral duties. This is another example to show that while our legal and biological families may reject us for our religious beliefs, we have a family in Christ to turn to, and we will not lose anything needful, but gain “an hundredfold” now and in eternal life.
In Christian Science, where we learn that consciousness is really “our world,” the above statement of Jesus can also be seen as saying we should not be afraid of giving up our old beliefs that we have been living with. We must have the courage to let go of any long ties to false systems, material beliefs, superstitions, beliefs in heredity or traditions, etc. By letting go former beliefs, and trading them for the further enlightenment that comes with the appearance of Christ, Truth, we can fully expect to be well compensated for our sacrifice. With regard to “honoring our father and our mother,” why not take time, especially when friction occurs, to re-evaluate your beliefs about fatherhood, motherhood, and “sonship.” Letting go of the false sense of our relationships can bring a new sense of freedom and make room for God to take
a greater role in our lives.
The Book of Luke also shows us Jesus reminding his followers that the Christ may cause divisions in families: “Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.” (Luke 12:51-53)
On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus said something similar to the above: “And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-26)
William Barclay comments on the latter episode: “We must not take his words with cold and unimaginative literalness. Eastern language is always as vivid as the human mind can make it. When Jesus tells us to hate our nearest and dearest, he does not mean that literally. He means that no love in life can compare with the love we must bear to him.” (WB, The Gospel of Luke, pg. 196)
It is also possible that Jesus is saying we must let go of a false, mortal sense of family before we can understand his spiritual teachings. That false sense is what is meant to be hated and rejected — not our brothers and sisters in Christ.
I like the explanation given by Mary Baker Eddy, as recorded in the Notes on the Course in Divinity on February 16, 1904: “The Bible says, ‘Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long,’ etc; then when it says, Luke 14:26, ‘If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.’ This would look like a direct contradiction of the words just quoted but is not; after we have honored our father and mother, then comes the next step — forsaking the flesh for Christ.”
It is that sense of “flesh,” as opposed to Spirit, that is to be hated and forsake. But, we lose nothing real or permanent.
THE HYPOCRISY OF CORBAN:
Jesus had a strong rebuke to those Jews who tried to use their own laws to escape their responsibilities to care for their elderly parents. We read about this in Mark, when the Pharisees were criticizing the disciples for breaking one of their laws:
“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the
commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free. And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:5-13)
Jesus is charging the Pharisees with hypocrisy. In their efforts to follow their traditions, they overlook the primary laws of God found in the Ten Commandments. The example Jesus gives is of the command to honor father and mother. He uses the term “Corban,” (also spelled Korban) which needs explanation. I turn again to William Barclay: “The word means a gift. It was used to describe something which was specially dedicated to God. A thing which was Korban was as if it had already been laid upon the altar. That is to say, it was completely set apart from all ordinary
purposes and usages and became the property of God. If a man wished to dedicate some of his money or his property to God, he declared it Korban, and thereafter it might never be used for any ordinary or secular purpose.” (WB, The Gospel of Mark, pg. 169-170)
Barclay continues: “It does seem that the idea of Korban was already capable of misuse. If that be the idea behind this, the passage speaks of a man declaring his property ‘Korban,’ sacred to God, and then when his father or mother in dire need comes to him for help, saying, ‘I am sorry that I cannot give you any help because nothing that I have is available for you because it is dedicated to God.’ The vow was made an excuse to avoid helping a parent in need. The vow which the scribal legalist insisted upon involved breaking one of the ten commandments which are the very law of God.”
“Jesus was attacking a system which put rules and regulations before the claim of human need. The commandment of God was that the claim of human love should come first; the commandment of the scribes was that the claim of legal rules and regulations should come first. Jesus was quite sure that any regulation which prevented a man from giving help where help was needed was nothing less than a contradiction of the law of God.” (ibid pg. 171)
This section proves that Jesus upheld the Fifth Commandment — that nothing should prevent us from coming to the aid of our earthly parents in their times of need, which was the original meaning of the Fifth Commandment. We cannot resort to any excuse, legal or otherwise, to avoid our duty to our parents or to show them mercy.
In her Message to The Mother Church for 1901, Mrs. Eddy speaks about the treatment of “reformers” in society. In making an analogy, she highlights the problems some elderly parents have: ” . . . well-meaning people sometimes are inapt or selfish in showing their love. They are like children that go out from the parents who nurtured them, toiled for them, and enabled them to be grand coworkers for mankind, children who forget their parents’ increasing years and needs, and whenever they return to the old home go not to help mother but to recruit themselves. Or, if they attempt to help their parents, and adverse winds are blowing, this is no excuse for waiting till the
wind shifts. They should remember that mother worked and won for them by facing the winds. All honor and success to those who honor their father and mother. The individual who loves most, does most, and sacrifices most for the reformer, is the individual who soonest will walk in his footsteps.” (’01, pg. 29)
JESUS AND MARY AT THE CROSS:
Let’s see how Jesus discharged his duty to his mother at the time of the crucifixion:
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son! Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:25-27)
Jesus had an undeniably good excuse for not paying attention to others below him as he was suffering on the cross. Yet, in his infinite unselfishness, Jesus took note of his mother. He was the “eldest son,” and had responsibilities for her care. Notice that he did not entrust her to the care of his younger brothers. Why not? Let us look at William Barclay’s commentary on this event:
“In this passage there is something which is surely one of the loveliest things in all the gospel story. When Jesus saw his mother, he could not but think of the days ahead. He could not commit her to the care of his brothers, for they did not believe in him yet (John 7:5). And, after all, John had a double qualification for the service Jesus entrusted to him — he was Jesus’s cousin, being Salome’s son, and he was the disciple whom Jesus loved. So Jesus committed Mary to John’s care and John to Mary’s, so
that they should comfort each other’s loneliness when he was gone.” (WB, The Gospel of John, Volume 2, pgs 256-257)
Here, Jesus not only honors his mother, Mary, by arranging her future care, but he also honors that true kinship he had with John, his beloved disciple, and bestows upon him the responsibility that might normally go to a brother. Jesus shows, by example, how to obey the Fifth Commandment, and at the same time honor those who are our spiritual kin.
JESUS AND HIS FATHER:
Jesus taught: “Call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” (Matthew 23:9) We have no record of what name he used with Joseph, but during the time recorded after his baptism, we know that God was the only one he referred to as “Father.” In fact, in Mark 14: 35-36, when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he used the term “Abba,” an affectionate term which might be likened to our “daddy.”
Think of this whenever you pray the Lord’s Prayer — what it really means to have God as your Father, your “Dad.” Not in a mortal sense, obviously, but as the only Cause and Creator, who loves and cares for all eternally, and would never wish any harm, but has planned for His family great blessings and a harmonious existence filled with joy and progress. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)
If this is true — that God is our Father, and therefore we are God’s children or off-spring — how can we “honor” God? Jesus shows us by his life, and in statements such as:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
By these statements, we can see that Jesus wanted us to “shine.” We want to show off what God has created! We let our spiritual nature shine through our lives to bear witness to God’s perfection and supremacy. Those of us who study Christian Science strive to learn about God’s nature, and then to manifest those qualities of God as best we can in our daily lives. Our Way-shower in this endeavor is Christ Jesus. Mary Baker Eddy explains:
“In divine Science, man is the true image of God. The divine nature was best expressed in Christ Jesus, who threw upon mortals the truer reflection of God and lifted their lives higher than their poor thought-models would allow, — thoughts which presented man as fallen, sick, sinning, and dying. The Christlike understanding of scientific being and divine healing includes a perfect Principle and idea, — perfect God and perfect man, — as the basis of thought and demonstration.” (S&H, pg. 259)
Part of Jesus’ mission, then, was to show us how to honor God by demonstrating His nature in our present lives. Just as we would love to make our earthly parents “proud” of our accomplishments, we should want to please our Heavenly Father by being the child He created: the perfect, spiritual image and likeness of His Being. And, just as we hope our own children represent us well in society, all the while loving them no matter how long it takes for them to “reach their potential,” God knows all along that we are His perfect reflection. In fact, that is all He knows of us — our perfection. From our limited human perspective, it appears He has infinite patience and forgiveness.
To fully develop this theme, I recommend a study of the parable of the Prodigal Son. It is found in Luke 15:11-32. Analyze the story from the point-of-view of all three characters. There is so much to learn from this parable on many levels, but in using it to illustrate the theme of the Fifth Commandment, focus on the issue of relationships. For instance, if the Father symbolizes God, what is Jesus telling us about God’s nature and His love for His children, even when they have “left” His “house”? Where is home? Why was the Elder Son in the field with the servants, rather than at home taking advantage of his “sonship.” The Prodigal was willing to be a “servant” for his father. Should we aim to be servants or sons? Christian Scientists familiar
with “the three degrees” found on page 115 of “Science and Health” might consider if each character illustrates one of the degrees or its inversion: the physical, the moral, the spiritual, and discuss how the higher ideas embrace the lower as material beliefs fade away.