My neighborhood group just finished our study of Beginnings, the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. A common discussion thread the whole time was, “What is the relevance of this ancient law and society to us?”
Concurrent with our Bible study has been working out my primary New Year’s resolution of honoring my mother this year, as she turns 100. These two seemingly different streams are closely connected in my mind with a call to honor those who came before us, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
Honoring my mother has consisted of spending time with her in ways that give her pleasure. What gives her the most pleasure comes down to my noticing her and being with her. Some conversation, some playfulness, lots of hugs and kisses and handholding, sometimes a walk, sometimes food, sometimes singing, these are things she enjoys. I also work hard at understanding what she says, since her words don’t always come out. Mom knows she’s valued when I spend time with her like this.
Over Memorial Day weekend, nearly our whole Blanchard/Kopan clan celebrated Mom and her birthday through many events. We must have sung Happy Birthday ten times, and she loved it every time. After the main party, my five-year-old grandson said, “I love our team.” He was right. We were a family team, working together in love: pushing a wheelchair, cutting up food, handing round the baby, looking out for each other as we enjoyed one another.
Honoring Momma is strongly connected to gratitude for the life she’s given me. I exist because of her! (And Dad.) I often tell her, “You gave birth to me! You raised me from a baby! Thank you!” She is a root to my tree, and I can go on and be a root to other trees, and on and on.
So how about the first five books of the Bible? These are our roots as believers in Jesus who are grafted into the tree of God’s kingdom. Our life in Jesus is absolutely founded on the calling of Israel and their often troubled, but always prophetic, life with God. The apostle Paul describes the Mosaic Law as “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24 NASB). God intentionally spun out millennia and generations until, in the “fullness” of time (Galatians 4:4), Jesus finally arrived on the scene. And Jesus was physically, genetically related to the Israelite people who came before, to Abraham and Adam and the others in the story in the first five books of the Bible—just as I am genetically related to Mom and Dad, and their forebears.
One more step takes me to honoring the Israelite people as my spiritual forebears. Paul says, “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7 NASB). And in Romans, he speaks explicitly to Gentiles like me, counseling gratitude to the roots in Israel, “Remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you” (Romans 11:18 NASB). I’m an adopted daughter of the kingdom of God.
Honor thy father and mother, says the commandment. Certainly my father and mother in the flesh, but also my many kingdom fathers and mothers going all the way back to the Beginnings. How do I do that? The people of the Old Testament are dead and gone (from this world anyway). I can’t throw a party with balloons and hold their hands and tell them “thank you!” But the records they preserved are still here, available to me, to us. We honor them when we honor their salvation history and let it shape our lives, revealing God to us as they were meant to do. And of course, in all this, God is honored as well.