I’m just going to be a straight-shooter here and come out and say it: I dislike having to be obedient. I don’t know why I’ve grown up this way, but if someone tells me I have to do something, there’s a part of me inside that gets riled up about being told to do something. What do they know? I’m sure I could do it my way and it’d turn out well enough. Geez.
Years ago when I did my theology degree, I encountered one class that was pivotal for me. It was called The Paschal Mystery. Our required text was only one book: Mysterium Paschale by Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was a contemporary and friend of Pope Emeritus Benedict. One of the main concepts of this book revolves around a Greek term called kenosis. Kenosis. Quickly defined on Wikipedia, it means, “the ‘self-emptying’ of Jesus’ own will and becoming entirely receptive to God’s divine will.” The word is uncommon among parish lips, yet more often than not it is the lived experience of many. Only one person has defined kenosis as we know it: Christ Jesus. It is the complete emptying of God in and through the Son, Jesus of Nazareth, for the love of the Father.
What I discovered as I read the book is that this outpouring of Jesus is in fact an act of obedience. Obedience to the Father and the Father’s will. All of Jesus’ life is one act of obedience and it is this obedience that satiates the price for salvation. But obedience is synonymous with love. There is an unappreciated correlation between these two things that cannot be avoided. Love requires obedience of us, but in love we do not see it as obedience.
Our perception of love is one of gratitude and thanksgiving (Eucharisteo), which leads to our own self-sacrifice for the other. When we love, it does not seem so much like obedience as we generally know this term, but it seems more as though we give ourselves to the one we love. We want to do things for them out of love for them. And because Jesus models this type of obedience (real, true self-sacrificing love), we know that this is the best type of obedience.
Recently I had an episode with my kids. My oldest and youngest were screaming and fighting each other and not listening to me as their decibels escalated. The result was unfortunate for the three of us: I also did my fair share of yelling and everyone was very, very mad at each other. I rued having to do anything else to aide them as I sat there stewing about their seeming inability to listen and obey. In walked my middle child (after the other two were sent away from ev.ry.one.) into my adult huff. I barked at her (inexcusably) to put away some work she had left out. I could have chosen to not address her while I was so frustrated, but my better sense was left out of my actions. Yet instead of getting angry about having to do it, or grumpy because I was in a bad mood, or anything really, she just walked over, picked up her stuff without comment, and put it away tidily.
As I saw her doing everything exactly as I asked, I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness she just did what I asked her to do I thought to myself. And then it struck me. Her obedience to my request assuaged me. By her action of doing as I had asked her to do, I was brought relief and soothed. I recalled reading in St. Faustina’s diary (please don’t ask me where, I failed to highlight anything) that Jesus said similar words for her. It was something along the lines of ‘your obedience consoles me.’ And I am struck with the realization that something similar happened with me.
If my daughter’s obedience relieved me, how much more will my obedience to Jesus console Him? I am a wayward child, like my own are. So often I balk at having to obey, but how much relief do I bring Jesus when I can just obey Him? Mother Teresa created a personal vow she added to her own religious vows: to refuse Jesus nothing. Isn’t this her way of saying, “Jesus, I will obey you no matter what you ask of me”? How many of our saints become precisely that because they understood the relationship between love and obedience?
And it’s not as if I dislike Jesus, I mean, I love Him! But as I reflect on the intimacy of love and obedience, I start to question if my actions, my obedience, truly show my love for Him. Have I been attending to Jesus with only my head, and have I been refusing my heart? If not fully, then to what extent?
Jesus showed us that real love requires ongoing mutual self-sacrifice, yet the love that we might have for others transforms our perception of sacrifice and obedience into an act of love for the other. The challenge therein lies with our concept of love and what it encompasses. Obedience is a natural (positive) consequence to love. Jesus showed us that His love was all-inclusive, and went well beyond our common boundaries of sacrifice and obedience to a level we hardly recognize. His challenge to us is to love, to “love one another. Just as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Dare we take this challenge and go “where [we]do not wish to go” (John 21:18)? For this is the call of love, and through Jesus, it calls to all of us. I wonder how we might be able to find better ways to obey Hm, out of love for him, to bring consolation to his suffering heart. I know one thing: I have a lot of work to continue to do. And praised be Jesus for obedient children.
Do you have negative connotations with obedience?
Copyright 2019 Jane Korvemaker