I pretty much blew off the fourth commandment as a kid. I figured everyone dishonored their parents. Everyone talked back and rolled their eyes and sighed loudly. And so, on my knees in the dark confessional, with the red velvet curtain drawn tight, I confessed that one sin time and time again without really giving it a second thought. “Bless me father for I have sinned. It’s been six weeks since my last confession, and these are my sins: I disobeyed my mother and father, I kicked my sister on the couch while we watched Love Boat, I was mean to my best friend.”
The necklace I stole right out of my classmate’s desk? No, I didn’t confess that sin. Ever. That sin was too bad to confess. That sin would have gotten me into trouble. But dishonoring my parents? I figured that one was no big deal.
As a kid I mapped out a hierarchy of sins in my head. Clearly some sins, like stealing and killing, were worse than others, like using the Lord’s name in vain and calling my dad a dork behind his back.
If I’m honest, I still do the same today. I deem some sins worse than others. I’ve got a sin spectrum all laid out, ordered and organized. Sometimes I let myself feel better than other people, if I know they have committed a sin farther along on the spectrum. Well at least I’m not that bad, I think to myself … at least I haven’t done that.
But the truth is, in God’s eyes, a sin is a sin is a sin. There is no sin spectrum, no hierarchy of bad-to-worse. Because in God’s eyes, every sin separates us from him.
I think that’s why the fourth commandment is included in the top ten in the first place. At first glance, honoring your father and mother might seem like small potatoes compared to “do not murder,” “do not commit adultery” and “do not steal.” But think about it. What happens when you dishonor your parents? What happens when you are disdainful, neglectful, impatient, snappish, bitter, self-righteous or angry with them? Not only are you showing disrespect toward your parents, you’re also not showing them love.
And when you’re not loving one of God’s own, you’re not loving God himself.
In the end, all ten commandments circle back to love, which is what Jesus tells us when he summarizes the ten into two in the Book of Matthew: “Love God and love your neighbor,” he says. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But for all of us who have ever exchanged a snippy word with our neighbor or our father-in-law, our mother or our boss, we know that love is complicated.
We know that sometimes, even love requires grace.
Questions for Reflection:
Do you consider some sins worse than others? Have you ever considered that even a “lesser” sin still creates distance between you and God?
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