Honoring elders will take a whole community effort

Published 9:17 am Friday, April 12, 2013

By the Rev. Todd Walsh
Grace Lutheran Church

There are all kinds of verses in the Bible about caring for the vulnerable. And the many instructions cover more than the “orphans and widows” that are named so often. The Bible also names care respect and care for the elderly.

Exodus 20:12 gives us the familiar commandment, “Honor your father and mother.” There are all sorts of other verses in the Bible that repeat and expand on this commandment. We are told that we will have long life if we honor our parents. The commandments and commentary on respect for parents expands to including seeking and heeding their advice and caring for them in their old age.

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So how are we doing 3,000 years after God gave us the word on respecting and caring for the elderly?

The days of elderly parents who are no longer able to care for themselves moving in with their children are largely gone. When it does happen it can be both a challenge and a privilege. We are blessed today with a variety of care facilities for the elderly. And they are staffed with many well trained and caring people. And I don’t think anyone would argue the point that the elderly in our care facilities thrive on family and friends who visit.

It is most impressive to see adult children who step up to the new reality of parents who need their attention. It seems strange for adult children to now need to care for the ones who took care of them. It can be a hard role reversal. There are many new realities with dealing with health challenges, caring not only for the person but the home that is cherished by parents who remain and the whole family. There is also the question of making life more simple and the process of giving away or getting rid of possessions. Then there is the issue of money.

The Bible’s call for care for the vulnerable finds its strength in God putting the community to work. The whole community starting with the family is called to act on behalf of the vulnerable. God’s promise to be with us is made real in God creating communities that care for all. That is still true for us today and it is made real in the levels of care that are around us: family, friends, care facilities, community programs and churches.

There are times when the caring community goes awry and the vulnerable suffer, particularly the elderly. Some stay in homes too long and can suffer ill health effects from not receiving proper care. The elderly are sometimes victimized by family stealing possessions and money. In these cases we are all reminded that we are to watch out for one another. Wills are a very important instrument to make wishes clear and protect everyone. Plans should be made with family about possessions. And more than one person should be responsible for handling someone else’s finances. Living wills are also important to make wishes clear. And frankly, stealing money or possessions from family is theft. We don’t need new laws for this. We need people to report it.

“Honor your father and mother.” It’s more than saying, “Yes, sir,” or taking out the garbage. It is God’s people gathered together to care for one another, particularly those among us who are vulnerable and need and deserve our help.