The Pharisees have criticised Jesus’ disciples – and therefore by implication him – for failing to properly honour their traditions. Failure to honour those traditions, the rules and regulations of the elders or forefathers might be seen as breaking the fifth commandment -a failure to honour parents. And if they dishonoured their elders and fathers, then they dishonoured God.
Jesus’ response tackles the criticism head on. He insists that they are the ones who dishonour God because they only pay lip service to him. In fact, they claimed to obey God’s law but their traditions which were meant to help them to obey God caused them to disobey him. They chose man instead of God. Jesus gives a specific example which focuses on the command to honour parents.
He notes that they are happy to set aside wealth and property that was meant to be designated to meet their parents’ needs and declare it “corban”. This is a technical term from the Torah and refers to something that has been set aside as a gift intended for God. Interestingly, it seems that the gift did not have to be allocated to God’s service, simply the act of declaring it set aside counted. It is possible therefore that this was being used a bit like a reverse inheritance tax dodge, to avoid someone getting out of an obligation to care for elderly relatives. However, it could also be that they genuinely desire to keep the vow.
Jesus observes that the scribes and pharisees if ruling on such a case would insist that the Corban requirement must be kept even though this was a human oral tradition and not found in Scripture. Their religious piety and concern to honour traditions meant that they in effect overturned God’s actual command to obey your parents, a command that was so serious that failure to obey it came with the death penalty.
It’s worth noting that we too can end up failing to keep this specific command truly even as we seek to show proper honour. For example, I think that in some church cultures, there can be a literal interpretation of the command which requires adult children to keep obeying whatever their parents tell them or keep seeking to meet the dreams and ambitions that their parents had for them, even after a mum or dad has died. This can in fact enslave them to form of tyranny and I don’t think that they do in those situations honour their parents. You see, the point of the commandment was that parents were meant to train their children in godliness and teach them God’s Word and God’s ways. Children of believers should, I think, recognise that their parents, at their best desired that their children would be faithful to Christ and fruitful in him. We don’t honour our parents by obeying them in their worst moments but rather by honouring and standing for the very things they sought to pass onto us in their best moments.
In more wider terms, we can misplace honour when we seek to pursue dreams and ambitions which may seem deeply spiritual and good but result in a failure to fulfil prior obligations. Now, Scripture does talk about the need to forsake all others, including parents but this is for the sake of following Christ not for following personal dreams, even good ones.
We also misplace honour whenever we prioritise personal dreams and desires or even the instruction and advice of others over what Scripture says. Nothing that a pastor or leader in your church asks of you should contradict Scripture or come between you and him.
Are there areas in your life where you are at risk of misplaced honour?