The Bible tells Christians to honour their parents. It is one of The Ten Commandments. And yet, many Asians think Christianity is a religion that teaches children to disrespect their parents and ancestors! I wonder why that is?
Jesus encountered a similar problem in his day. He said to the Pharisees (Mark 7:9-13 NIV):
“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ … But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is … devoted to God -- then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
Do we “do many things like that”?
Bessie sought her pastor’s counsel. Bessie’s mother had requested Bessie’s help in maintaining the family’s ancestral altar table. Her mother was getting older and she requested Bessie’s help to purchase the necessary items for the altar, and to learn the meticulous customs on keeping the altar clean and putting everything in its proper place. Bessie was unsure what to do as a Christian. Some of her church friends had said that she should politely decline as this would go against her devotion to the Christian God.
Bessie’s pastor advised her to ask God what was the best way to express honour and respect for her mother. Bessie prayed about this, and decided to honour God, not by challenging her mother, but by honouring her wish to learn how to maintain properly the ancestral altar according to her mother’s instructions.
Bessie’s church friends were appalled at her decision. How could a faithful Christian be actively involved in preparing an ancestral altar table? They urged Bessie to stand up and speak up to her mother so that she would destroy the altar and idols.
Bessie’s mother was grateful for Bessie’s filial love. And soon her mother was happy to let Bessie read the Bible aloud to her and pray for her everyday in the name of Jesus. She wanted to know more about the God who had taught her daughter to be a good filial child. Six months later, Bessie’s mother chose to become a devout follower of Jesus Christ, and soon after decided on her own to stop the food offerings and remove the altar.
May God forgive us, and save us from being Pharisees who in vain use the Lord’s name to justify actions and attitudes which dishonour parents and God.
On TRAC Together for God's Word, Worship, Welcome, Witness and Wonder
Rev Dr Gordon Wong
This article was first published in the Sep 2017 issue of the Methodist Message, and is reproduced here with permission.