“Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” These are the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel reading, from the First Sunday of Matthew (10:32-33, 37-38; 19:27-30) and the Sunday of All Saints. And Jesus’ words may jar some of us as we reflect on our own father on this Father’s Day 2014. But it is providential that these words come to us today through our Orthodox lectionary because they provide one of the clearest instructions to help fathers be better fathers and children be better children.
From early in our childhood we learned the Ten Commandments and the fifth commandment was always most memorable: “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12). Why? Because when we are young, our parents are everything to us. In many ways, when we were a newborn baby and grew into toddlerhood, our parents were like God to us. As far as we were concerned, they were all-powerful, providing for our every need. But as we grew a little older, especially in adolescence, we realized that our parents were not God, they were not perfect.
Now the key here is that good, loving and compassionate parents acknowledge this fact to their teenagers. They say, “Your right, I’m not perfect; but let me show you someone who is perfect.” And they point to Jesus and to God the Father. They say, “I love you this much but God loves you much more than that. Love Him more than me and He will show you how to love your children this much.” The parents who often run into difficulty with their children are the ones who will not relinquish their earlier divine role in their children’s lives. They are above reproach and in extreme cases, they can become tyrannical, squashing any challenge to their authority. All this does is cause their children to see them as angry and controlling, not loving and compassionate.
Now the great majority of fathers and mothers love their children. They are not trying to alienate them. They are trying to help them to become responsible, caring people and eventually mature adults. The problem is that we parents, especially fathers at times, do not know how to relinquish our control over our children’s lives. We can do that better if we start learning and practicing turning that control over to God. Actually, the control was never ours in the first place. That’s just an illusion. The recently canonized Saint Porphyrios of Greece, in his book ‘Wounded by Love’ states the problem and the solution quite simply. He says that we parents talk too much at our children, constantly nagging them and bothering them with our words. St. Porphyrios says that instead of nagging our children, we parents and fathers should nag God in our prayers. Then God will sift our words and find a way, a time and place, to speak to our children.
My prayer for my son is this, “God, speak to him the words he needs to hear. God, reveal yourself to him. God, show him that You love him. God, help him to be the person you are calling him to be.”
If we fathers and parents love God more than our children, then God is going to help us be the best fathers and parents we can be. If we can teach and show our children to love God more than us parents, then we do not have anything to worry about. Maybe they will follow the fifth commandment, maybe they will not but it’s more likely that they will.
And now some words to us children, some of our parents did a really good job at showing us how love God more than them; some parents, maybe not so much. But either way, when we become adults, we still have the God-given commandment to honour our mothers and fathers. So, when they are in need, we will help them. When people see us and how we act, when they hear us and how we talk, and they know the persons we have become, with all our qualities and characteristics, hopefully that will bring honour to our parents.
Let us close today with a two passages from the Scriptures. The first is from the Wisdom of Sirach.
1Hear me your father, O children, and do thereafter, that you may be safe. 2 For the Lord has given the father honour over the children, and has confirmed the authority of the mother over the sons. 3Whoso honours his father makes an atonement for his sins: 4 And he that honours his mother is as one that lays up treasure. 5 Whoso honours his father shall have joy of his own children; and when he makes his prayer, he shall be heard. 6 He that honours his father shall have a long life; and he that is obedient unto the Lord shall be a comfort to his mother. 7 He that fears the Lord will honour his father, and will do service unto his parents, as to his masters. 8 Honour your father and mother both in word and deed that a blessing may come upon thee from them. 9 For the blessing of the father establishes the houses of children; but the curse of the mother roots out foundations. 10 Glory not in the dishonour of your father; for your father’s dishonour is no glory unto thee. 11 For the glory of a man is from the honour of his father; and a mother in dishonour is a reproach to the children. 12 My son, help thy father in his age, and grieve him not as long as he lives. 13And if his understanding fail, have patience with him; and despise him not when you are in your full strength. 14For the relieving of your father shall not be forgotten: and instead of sins it shall be added to build you up. 15 In the day of your affliction it shall be remembered; your sins also shall melt away, as the ice in the fair warm weather. 16 He that forsakes his father is as a blasphemer; and he that angers his mother is cursed: of God. (Sirach 3:1-16)
The second is a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2″Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: 3″that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” 4And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4)
In the last two verses of today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields, for My name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”
May God help us to love Him more than our fathers and to love Him more than our children so that we can love our fathers and our children more than ever before. Amen!
St George Greek Orthodox Church , Greek Orth. Arch. of America