Hear, O Children
Today’s reflection looks at three passages in the scriptures that say and reinforce the same idea. The first is from Proverbs 4:1-7. ʺHear, O children, a father’s instruction, be attentive, that you may gain understanding! Yes, excellent advice I give you; my teaching do not forsake. When I was my father’s child, tender, the darling of my mother, he taught me and said to me: ‘Let your heart hold fast to my words: keep my commands, and live! Get wisdom, get understanding! Do not forget or turn aside from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will preserve you; love her, and she will safeguard you; the beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom; whatever else you get, get understanding.ʺ
What is this wisdom that will preserve and safeguard us? In Deuteronomy we see that this wisdom is knowledge and understanding of the Law of God. We see Moses giving his final teaching to the people. He knows that he will not see the Promised Land, but he also knows that the decrees and statutes of the Lord are the very things that will strengthen his people. He knows that it is his duty to teach them and to encourage them to know and to keep the statutes and decrees of God well enough in their own lives to be able to teach them to their own children and grandchildren. He knows that this is the duty of a father, and, though the way of speaking at the time of Moses was not ʺinclusive,ʺ he knew it was the duty of mothers as well. He says to the people: ʺNow, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy. Observe them carefully, for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ʺ (Deuteronomy 4: 1-6)
Here Moses is providing us an example of the duty we have as parents to teach our children God’s law, the Natural Law, so that they might live lives of real freedom and responsibility. He is modeling to us the responsibility we have toward one another, toward the widow, the orphan, and the alien among us too. And this is the wisdom that Proverbs is referring to: that in seeing the values and the graces of living in accord with God’s statutes and decrees through our own experiences, we will also see the real meaning and purpose of teaching God’s laws to our children. In taking our responsibility to know and to teach God’s law, we are passing on to our children, and our children’s children, the most effective means of experiencing true happiness in their own lives. Moses tells us, ʺTake care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, not to let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.ʺ (Deuteronomy 4: 9)
Finally, Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:17-19, ʺDo not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill…Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.ʺ
In all of this we learn two things then: First, Do not forget the statutes and decrees of God, for they are the source of your freedom and your happiness. Secondly, we each have the responsibility and the privilege to teach these statutes and decrees to your children and to your children’s children with both our words and our deeds. In doing this we will fulfill the commandments and we will pass on the only true means for real freedom, responsibility, and happiness, to our children and our children’s children. In doing this we will be called ʺgreatest in the Kingdom of heaven.ʺ This is the duty of a father, of a mother. This is our joy as well. There is no greater work, no greater joy than to teach our children well.