Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Second Sunday after Christmas

Ecclessiasticus (Sirach) 3:6-9, 14-17
vv. 3-4 Those who honor their father atone for sins, and those who respect their mother are like those who store up treasure.

Today's reading is from the apocryphal book of the Wisdom of Ben Sirach, or "Ecclesiasticus" (not to be confused with Ecclessiastes, a book of the Old Testament). The Apocrypha is a collection of writings that are accepted as part of the Old Testament by Roman Catholics, not by most Protestants, and by some, like us, put in a separate section and labeled "helpful but not authoritative."

Sirach is a collection of Wisdom sayings. Like all wise sayings they deal in ideals. The formula is something like "if this (good/evil) is happening as it should happen, then this (good/evil) will be the result." The reality is, of course, sometimes this is true and sometimes it is not. Nevertheless these are the (sometimes annoying) things your parents and grandparents tried to teach you and they really do work that way most of the time.

Our reading is from a section on the duties to one's parents. Here it feels like we are on shaky ground. Our relationships with our parents are as varied and complicated as there are numbers of us. Some of us have great relationships with our father or mother, others of us don't, and most of us live somewhere in between.

It seems important to me that when the Bible talks to us about our relationship with our parents it always uses the words "honor" or "respect." It does not use the word "love." It doesn't even use the word "like!" This says to me that underneath the surface the Bible knows all about dysfunctional families (there are, after all, some whoppers in the Bible). Whatever the "functionality" of my relationships with my parents, I am called to have a basic and thoroughgoing respect for them. For some of us even this much is hard, but at the very least the bibilcal view is that the exception should not prove the rule.

There came a point in my life after I had done everything I could do to separate myself from my parents (the kinds of things most of us do, no matter what era we grew up in) that I had to say, "Yet these are my parents, a fact that will never change." That was the tipping point of respect. From there I could go on to admit the many was in which I am actually like them, and that in leaning to respect them I was actually also learning to repect myself.

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