Pray, Pay, and Obey?

This reflection is for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle B, 3/18/2018.

I’ve often see young people wearing this logo. You may have seen it too. Ironically, (or sarcastically) it doesn’t mean to obey at all! Instead, it stands for a movement that makes a mockery of obedience. And, of course, their poster children are some of the worst dictators in history–not a hard sell when it comes to arguing for disobedience against tyrannical dictators! But surely we haven’t decided to disobey just for the sake of disobedience…have we? Yikes! I’m afraid maybe we have thrown the baby out with the bath water. Today’s Gospel, far from teaching us to disobey, instead reveals the wonderful fruit of obedience, namely the resurrection and the hope of salvation for all who believe.

I was once told by a less-than-devout Catholic, “Pray, pay, and obey! That’s what the Church is all about!” She went on to say that God has given her a conscience, which means that she doesn’t have to listen to anyone but herself! She confidently told me that she doesn’t have to learn any of the Church’s teachings because she doesn’t need anyone telling her what to do! (I’m pretty sure she has an OBEY sweatshirt in her closet!) Incidentally, she really was on to something. The Church DOES teach that we have a conscience, and that we must listen to and obey our conscience. The C.C.C. teaches, “By his reason, man recognizes the voice of God which urges him ‘to do what is good and avoid what is evil.’ Everyone is obliged to follow this law, which makes itself heard in conscience and is fulfilled in the love of God and of neighbor” (1706). As I mentioned in an earlier post, each of us has the law of God written on our heart, and the Church teaches in the verse above, that we must obey that! The revealed law and church law do not seek to undermine or supplant that law written on our heart, but instead seek to clarify it, purify it, and apply it to the concrete situations in which we live. Listen, obedience is not bad! Obedience is very good! Obedience helps us to live undivided, fragmented, and broken lives. When we are whole, we can most easily love–and that’s Jesus’ great commandment!

Obedience in the Bible is all about love! Obedience is the fruit of love! Jesus himself, in John 14:15 says, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (emphasis mine). When we know how much God loves us, and we love God in return, then we obey. In fact, to disobey is almost always a revolt against the good. It is a revolt against God. We are in effect saying, “God I know what I should do, I know what your Church teaches, law teaches, and my own conscience teaches, but I’m not interested. I want to do my own thing!” And at that point we are divided within ourselves, between ourselves and our neighbors, and between ourselves and God. That is what we call sin. Sin is not breaking the law, it is breaking the most important relationships we have. Sin is a failure to obey God’s law of love. Love God and love our neighbor as our self. All sin is personal, but no sin is private.

With a life of disobedience, we cannot please God. If God’s commandment is to love, and we refuse to do so (disobedience) then we simply cannot share in the Kingdom of God. God does not kick us out, we choose not to live there! At the point of disobedience we are actually doing violence to God’s kingdom. Sad. Jesus came to show us a better way. Jesus’ whole life is a testimony to what the undivided heart can accomplish. Jesus teaches us that a human soul perfectly united to God has amazing power! Power to forgive, to heal, to feed, to show mercy, and to offer oneself entirely to another. From beginning to end Jesus teaches humanity how to properly love and obey God. The C.C.C. teaches, “The Son of God, who came down from heaven, not to do his own will, but the will of him who sent him.” (606) Jesus himself affirms, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.” (JN 4:34). In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “The Father loves me, because I lay down my life, for I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.” (JN 10:17) He shows us that it is possible to love and to sacrifice–not easy, but possible. If we find it too difficult to obey, we need only to draw closer to God.

Jesus’ whole life is marked by obedience to the will of His father on behalf of others. Do not think that this was not difficult for our Lord. We often excuse ourselves because we “are merely human” as though that somehow gets us off the hook! Jesus was human too…and he obeyed! He suffered and still obeyed. The letter to the Hebrews teaches very clearly that Jesus was entirely human and suffered greatly. We read, “In the days when Christ Jesus was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (HEB 5:7-9) In other words, in spite of the difficulty, he obeyed. In fact, it was through his suffering, that he was made perfect in his humanity!

Jesus knew something that many of us fail to ever truly discover, that the struggle, the suffering, the hardship, the dying to one’s own will, is precisely what is necessary for salvation. Jesus looked forward to the test. Jesus confronted to obstacle because he knew that it was only in the crucible of this earthly life that we are able to bind most perfectly to God. He knew that in the test our testimony comes to life. He knew that only in dying are we born to eternal life. Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” (JN 12:24-25)

Therein lies the secret to obedience. Obedience recognizes something greater than oneself is at stake. Soldiers obey orders because they know that when they agreed to serve that there comes a time when their commanding officer gives orders that they may or may not like, but they do them anyway–because it is what must be done. Obedience means that you’re not in charge, but are instead part of something much greater and that each one of us has an important part to play. Jesus admitted that he wasn’t looking forward to the cross–but that his obedience to the will of his father revealed his love for the father, and that through his obedience others would come to know life as well. He continues in verse 27, “I am troubled now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Jesus’ obedience brings life…and so does our own. When we obey God’s will, as difficult as that can sometimes be, we become a source of life for others. When we choose to love, choose to be generous, choose to sacrifice for our children, our spouse, our neighbor, we share in God’s work of salvation. What an honor. What a privilege. We should have the words of our savior always on our lips during difficult times. Every time we are challenged to obey God’s will to love, we must pray, “I am trouble now. But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Obedience is not a bad thing. Obedience saved the world from sin and death 2,000 years ago and every moment since. What will you say when hard times come your way? Will you

Blessings, Stephen




By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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