Jesus reserved His most severe reprimands for the scribes and Pharisees, who were ostensibly pious but in actuality promoted man-made tradition over the vital commands of God’s word. A prime example of this is His censure of their tradition of Corban—declaring one’s possessions as divine property—whereby they would attempt to exploit a loophole to avoid providing for their aging parents only to later find a way to redeem their possessions. Jesus explained, “For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, “Whoever says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God“—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:4-6). The command to honor one’s parents is explicit in the law of Moses (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16). It is also repeated in the New Testament of Jesus Christ: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise, ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:1-3).
Honor includes financial support for an aging parent. This is evident from 1 Timothy 5, where the word honor includes not only respect, but also support. While the church is to honor widows indeed (those who are bereft of all family), the responsibility falls on the family first to provide for a widow in accordance with God’s principle of honoring your father and mother. Paul explains, “But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God” (1 Timothy 5:4). A grown child is repaying their parents by caring for them in their old age because their parents cared for them when they were young.
The death penalty was prescribed by the law of Moses for those who cursed their parents (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9). Jesus quotes these passages in His rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees. Additionally, Proverbs 23:22 instructs, “Listen to your father who begot you, And do not despise your mother when she is old.” The final years of life with the decline of health are called “evil days” in Ecclesiastes 12:1. They are evil not in an ethical sense, but in the sense of suffering, injury, and pain.
To appear holy before those who don’t know us well is one thing; to obey the commands of God when it is difficult and only our family sees it is another thing. How we regard our parents reveals a lot about our attitude toward God (cf. Romans 1:30; 1 Timothy 1:9; 2 Timothy 3:2). Is it any wonder that contempt for parents and disregard for God’s word go hand in hand?