Dr. Kris A. Jackson Teacher and Revivalist
In what is usually cited as the third of seven Cries from Calvary, Jesus turned the cross into a temporary office and took care of some last minute family business. Before saying, “Into thy hands I commend my spirit”, He said to John, “into your hands I commend my Mother”. “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!”Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26-27). The Master’s tender heart was revealed in the middle of a gruesome struggle. It was an inconvenient time to deal with others, bearing so much pain of His own, nevertheless the dying Lamb took time to pray for others, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”, love others, “Today, you will be with me in paradise”, and minister to others, “Woman, behold your son!”
He picked John because of the young disciple’s capacity to love. He wanted his mother to be treated with love and respect and trusted John to grant the care He would give were He able to remain in the flesh. As John had leaned on Jesus breast, the young man was now groomed for others to lean on his shoulder. We could say that Jesus did a background check before committing his mother to a caregiver. And, it may be that Jesus expected His rugged Mama to outlive all the older apostles, so He chose John because he was the youngest of the Twelve. She probably wasn’t fifty years old yet. We do see Mary on the Day of Pentecost in the upper room receiving the same power of the Spirit as the others. It was a wise choice. Mary was left in good hands.
The exchange is quite endearing and is one of the sweetest details in the Gospels. Of course, it is included for our example. If Jesus had time to honor His mother during His dying hour surely we can fit family responsibilities in between catching a bus ride to work and shuttling the children to soccer games. It is a matter of priority. The fifth commandment demands, “Honor your father and mother that it may be well with you”. Jesus honored the Father by submitting to the cross while honoring His mother by making her life less of a cross.
I confess that this subject is not my specialty. I have never made a decision regarding whether to care for an aging parent at home or in a nursing home. I have never faced the day in and day out discipline of feeding, consoling, dressing, putting up with and cleaning up after someone who is unable to take care of his or herself. But I do have an 86-year old mother who is reaching for a ninetieth birthday party, so there are a few things that are obvious.
1. If you have any flowers to give, give them now
This may sound crude but a fresh-cut bouquet says a lot more than a funeral sprig. Romans 13:7 says to give honor to whom honor is due. Is anyone more deserving of honor, love and respect than one’s parents? “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do so” (Prov 3:27). A card, consistent calls to home, a night out where the child pays for the dinner instead of the parents, help with household chores, paying for a new appliance or whatever, there are unlimited ways to honor those who gave the gift of life. Soon opportunities to express our love will be gone. If you have flowers to give, give them NOW. These things are “in the power of your hand to do so”, a single dandelion in the hand of a child, or a sizable check in the hand of a middle-aged adult.
2. Spiritual devotion never cancels secular duty
You might remember how the “spiritual” Pharisees tried to get out of secular duties by twisting scripture, claiming a right to take money that should have been used to requite their parents while putting it on hold in the bank to be used someday for the Lord’s work, which of course, the Pharisees never intended to follow through on (Matthew 15:3-9).
There are times when sons and daughters must forsake family relationships and even parents to obey the call of God on their lives (Mark 10:29). Jesus breathed His last breath and submitted to the mission to which He had been sent. He didn’t come down off the cross so He could remain with His mother during her final years. But, He made sure that the secular concerns of His immediate family were provided for before saying goodbye to this world. Spiritual devotion did not cancel secular duty.
3. Every age has its stage
We live in a wonderful day of superior healthcare and increased longevity. They say sixty is the new forty. Lifespans are increasing especially in economically developing nations. The command to honor parents runs in stages. God’s word admonishes small children to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1). Older youths and young marrieds are to “requite” their parents – “But if any widow has children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God” (1 Timothy 5:4). The verb is translated as repay, recompense, care for or return in other Bible versions. Middle-aged children need to publically honor their parents and the time will likely follow that they must patiently care for frail, aging parents.
The term ‘Geriatrics’ comes from two Greek words, ‘geres’ meaning ‘old age’, and ‘iatrios’ which speaks of a ‘doctor’. Aging parents need doctoring, which assumes more than providing a ride to doctor’s appointments. Children are drafted into the medical practice whether trained or not. Honoring our parents means looking out for their welfare physically, emotionally and spiritually. I once heard that old age is the “heavy metal” age: when there’s gold in your teeth, silver in your hair and lead in your pants!
Yes, our parents are aging but be mindful not to push them along in their aging. Moses lived to be 120-years old, so help them to stay youthful. No one is over the hill who is still climbing. Encourage aging parents to keep climbing.
But we must be discerning enough to know which stage of life a parent is in. Barzillai, “a very aged man” reached a point where he didn’t want to make any more crossings over Jordan. Read the passage sometime recorded in 2 Samuel 19:31-39. David desired for his aged friend to remain involved as in earlier years but the time came for Barzillai to say, “No, if you don’t mind I think I will sit this one out”, to which David respectfully honored the old man’s wish.
4. Your parents are “your” parents
As a Westerner I am impressed in observing how Malayalee and other South Asian families care for their aging parents, often providing them a comfortable home within their homes. Western cultures are trending away from personal involvement in caring for senior family members, but it must be said, your parents are “your” parents. They don’t belong to the State or even the Church. They raised you up, don’t put them down. “There is a generation that curses their father, and does not bless their mother” (Proverbs 30:11). We are looking at that generation. And it is serious business – “Cursed is anyone who dishonors their father or mother.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deuteronomy 27:16 NIV).
There couldn’t have been a less convenient time for Jesus to have to deal with providing for His mother than while He hung from the cross. What about James, Jose, Jude or the other boys, couldn’t they take care of the Mary matter? Sure, there is always someone who will intervene, but your parents are still “your” parents. It only requires peeling one more potato.
They are called patients because they require patience. Jesus didn’t sound in the least irritated about having to introduce John and Mary to their new family structure. He remained patient and sweet even through the agonies of Gethsemane, the mock trial and the clinched spikes. It is easy to grow thin on patience when measuring out pills, paying bills and wiping up spills. But just like the famous song stated, “he’s not heavy, he’s my brother”. Let me change a word, “She’s not heavy, she’s my mother”.
5. When it’s time to say goodbye, make sure it’s not goodbye
The greatest honor a child can pay a parent is to see them again on the other side. Sometimes the child has the responsibility of leading the parent to Christ. By all means do everything in your power to bring them face to face with the Savior even if it means turning the deathbed into an altar of prayer. You may be the key to your parent’s salvation, again the reminder, your parents are “your” parents. But it is more likely that the parent will lead the way for the child. So respond to Christ. One day we will say “goodbye”, but if we know Jesus as Lord and Savior, goodbye is not goodbye, actually it is just a kiss goodnight and then comes the morning. Eternal.
Let’s close with a few lines from Harry Chapin’s 1974 favorite, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’.
“I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away, I called him up just the other day,
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”, he said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time,
You see my new job’s a hassle and the kids have the flu, but it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad,
It’s been sure nice talking to you”. And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me he’d grown up just like me, my boy was just like me.”