Yesterday we attended the service, as we sometimes do, at a Catholic church in an Mthatha neighborhood. The preacher (a priest-in-training) spoke on healthy relationships within the family. Parents, he said, should care for children. Children, for their part, must obey parents. In order to illustrate his point, however, he selected from a newspaper a story about a broken family: a husband who used to tell his wife that he was going on vacation in distant countries only to retreat to an underground bunker where he raised up children with his teenage daughter.
It struck me that the story did not serve the preacher's point. Must children unconditionally obey parents? I remembered that two years ago I heard a preacher say that if one obeys his father, he automatically obeys God [emphasis his].
In a related vein, at our Bible school committee meeting on Saturday, the eldest mama had sent a message ahead with another mama "not to start without her."
"You know how she is," the younger mama said. "But, she is old."
She is old. He is old. She is "my old woman." He is "my old man."
Age is its own criterion. Seniority answers to no one.
Or does it?
We were discussing the factionalism that is dividing one particular branch of our Bible school, with repercussions for the whole. One man on the committee, speaking of an elder figure in the school, expressed a sentiment common among the gathered members.
"He is old, but he will destroy this school. This school is the work of God. And God will judge us if we allow this to die."
In other words, "we must obey God rather than human authority" (Acts 5:29). Even old men.
Jesus did not cede our human obedience to human authority. On the contrary, the "Abba" to whom he prayed is also our "Father." He is our Old Man. She is our Old Woman.
To him let us listen.