The Fourth Commandment: Mature Audiences Only

Stephen Karam’s 2016 Tony-award winning drama, The Humans, is on stage at the nation’s oldest playhouse, Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theater, and it comically depicts a Scranton, Pennsylvania family under siege by the country’s economy and culture. The Blake family of four also attacks itself with old and new hurts, swiping psyches, egos, and memories. Watching their grandmother fade with dementia, the two late 20-something granddaughters struggle to remember the best of their parents and recall instead the worst of their annoying personalities. Somehow, love cracks into their relationships.


The story highlights the hardships of family life, especially under the stress of life itself. It also reminds the disciple of the difficulty of the Fourth Commandment. Frequently a top vote-getter for most violated of the Decalogue by children and adolescents, honoring mother and father—for many—gets harder with age. Renegotiating relationships with parents when children become adults is challenging. Issues of boundaries could require an emotional GPS that is not readily available. Nevertheless, the divine call to respect parents is always in effect, no matter the age and aging of all involved.

Easier said than done.

Family members have the potential to drive us crazy. They know which hot buttons to push because they have seen the reactions to their pushing for years. An Oblate once famously said, “No one can push my buttons like my mother; that’s because she installed them!” Our insecurities and limitations have likely been fostered and fortified by our families, especially our parents. Perhaps this is the wisdom of the Fourth Commandment. To honor—always—those who formed us, we honor the love they gave us regardless of the success they may have had at parenting. We know no one is perfect, and parenting is possibly the most difficult of works. Imperfections in the most crucial of contexts exacerbate the consequences, yet we are commanded to return mercy, forgiveness, and understanding. Yes, this is honoring parents, and it is honorable to do it.

Perhaps it is what marks us as humans.