I once asked a nun who had been professed many years what she found most difficult about the religious life. The answer I received was a surprising one: ‘Obedience’. She could cope with poverty and chastity, with stability, and the ongoing change of character, but she found it hard to do what she was told, to be obedient.
It is not for nothing that the opening words of the Rule of St Benedict are: ‘Listen my son to the words of the Master’. I, like her, struggle with obedience. In fact, if we are honest with ourselves, all of us do too. We like to have our own way, to do what we want, when we want, and how we want to do it. We are wilful, and proud, we want to have our own way, we don’t want to listen to someone else: a spouse, a parent, a priest, or God. Such is the nature of the human condition. This is the reason why God was born as a man, preached the Good News, and taught a new way to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. For this he suffered, and died.
And for us as the church, the first thing we need to do is to listen to Jesus, to do what he tells us, to be obedient to him. If we love him we will keep his commandments, we will love God and each other with the same costly self-giving love that Jesus shows on the Cross.It’s quite a big ask, following in his footsteps, dying to self and living for God. It does however lie at the heart of it all. When Jesus says, ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you’ in the Upper Room with His disciples, on the night before he dies, He is looking to the Cross and beyond, as the demonstration of real costly self-giving love. The agony of brutal torture awaits him, a painful death for the love of humanity, to save us and heal us. As St Isaac the Syrian says:
‘The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake.” This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes, if he had had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby have recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should draw near to him freely, by our own mind’s love.’
God dies for us, and freely offers us the gift of new life in Him. If we listen to him, then Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit, to strengthen us, to encourage us: a generous gift from a generous God., so that we can experience the fulness of new life in him. A gift so wonderful that Jesus ascends to his Father before giving it to the church, a sign of God’s love and trust, given to strengthen and encourage, to build us up. Such is the power of obedience, where we recognise power greater than ourselves, needs greater than our own, when we turn from love of self to love of God and others The world around will never quite understand this, it simply cannot listen to Jesus or trust him, and so misses out on the fulness of God’s love, which awaits us in heaven. So we pray that we might be obedient, that we might listen to what Jesus says, and do it, and that God would pour out his Holy Spirit upon us, to strengthen and encourage us, to build us up in his love. By listening to what God says we find ourselves becoming more free than we could have been before
This is not some future event, but right here and right now; we thirst for this love, and only it can satisfy our deepest desires, so let us come, and drink of that living water, let us feast on him who is the living bread and the true vine, the shepherd of our souls, who loves us so much that he died for us, and let us love him and one another so that all the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever