Category Archives: Ordinary Season
Obedience is the fruit of faith. It comes from the Latin word Obaudire, Ob- to and audire – hear, listen. It is an attitude of actively listening to God, trusting what He says and doing what He asks. It is an act of freedom; of submitting one’s intellect and will to the words that one hears, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. It is about allowing oneself to be taught, to be disciplined by God. It is about being a child and letting God be Our Father.
Three things make obedience possible. The first is freedom; the discipline of one’s desire, mind and will that make our response to God possible and effortless. It is that inner strength with which we are free from everything that holds us back from listening, knowing, from being able to say yes or no. The second is knowledge; knowing what we are being asked, who is asking and for what end he or she is asking. The Third is trust. The one asking should be trustworthy.
When these three things are absent, it is difficult if not impossible to obey. This seems to account for the reaction of many to the word obedience. For some, the word obedience retraumatises them as it brings back memories of abuse of trust. While for others it simply speaks of an attitude of the powerful to control and manipulate others. Michel Foucault reckons the abuse of trust is key to the reactions of people against authority, institutions and obedience.
On the flipside, disobedience and rebellion to authority and institutions are not the solutions to abuse of trust nor power. Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America is quoted for saying, “The end of tyranny, abuse of any sort is obedience to God’s will.” For God commands us to seek and worship Him alone, to love our neighbour, to help the poor etc. Whenever we obey Him and do what He asks of us, we use trust and power for good.
So, the first fruit of obedience is that we use our position of trust and power for the good of others. This is evident in the story of Naaman the Syrian. In 2 Kings 5:2-3, we find an intriguing detail. A little Israelite girl was captured in one of Syria raids against Israel. That little girl used her position of trust and knowledge to recommend the prophet Elisha to Naaman. She did this out of obedience to God. And her recommendation brought about Naaman’s healing, conversion.
In the Gospel reading from Luke 17: 11-19, Jesus did not abuse His position of authority to heal the sick since He was obedient to the Father who sent Him. He used His position to hear the cry of the ten lepers, “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us”, even when they stood some way off and called out to Him. He also used His position to understand why they had to stand where they stood. Thus, He asked them to do what the Law required, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”
The second fruit of obedience is that it humanises us. Johnathan Sacks, one of the outstanding Rabbis in the UK said, “At a deeper level, obedience to God humanises us.” It helps to come to terms with the truth of our own humanity. That is, no matter how great we are, no matter who we have become or what we have accomplished, however careful and pedantic we are; we can still be susceptible to trials of different sorts, calamities, sicknesses, failures, sin and even death.
This is very true of Naaman. He was a great Syrian Military Commander, who had enjoyed God’s favour and won many victories for Syria. Despite all this, he was stricken with leprosy. Ordinarily, this would have shattered his world. To save face, he would have probably step back from public light and give in to depression, as many who are in denial of their humanity would have done. But he did not. He accepted his condition, kept his position and humbly sought healing.
This is the power of obedience. It not only humanises us; it also makes us humble. Humble enough to accept our condition and to reach out for help. “Jesus! Master! Take pity on us”, the ten lepers cried out. Pride would not have let them do this. Pride would not have also let Naaman come down to the level of the little Israelite slave girl, to hear her and to accept her recommendation to go and see the prophet Elisha. Pride definitely would not have let Naaman to immerse himself seven times in the Jordan, when there were better rivers in Syria.
But humility freed him from his ego and therefore freed him for the work of God’s saving action. “And his flesh became clean once again like that of the flesh of a little child.” This is an interesting detail. It is the crux of Naaman’s narrative. For when we obey God, and do what He asks of us, we become like little children. And what does Jesus say, “I assure you, unless you change and become like little children, you can never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
So, Naaman becomes an example of how we can enter the Kingdom of heaven. And in the Gospel reading, the Samaritan not only become a little child, he also manifested the signs of the coming of God’s kingdom. “Finding himself cured, one of them turned back praising God at the top of his voice and threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him.” Conversion, healing, restoration and right worship are all signs of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
And when the kingdom of God comes, everything changes. Those who have died with Christ to disobedience and now live in obedience like the Samaritan in the Gospel reading, hear the restorative words of the King, “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” Faith in this context is faith with work, and the work of faith is obedience to God. Thus, the third fruit of obedience is the manifestation of the kingdom of God, which climaxes in right worship.
Fr. Francis Afu