I have never found obedience particularly easy. In fact, being a head strong and prideful person, obedience has always made me uncomfortable and even fearful that I was “giving myself away.”
So, why is the notion of obedience so prominent in Orthodox Christian teachings and the wisdom of the fathers who have come before us?
It has everything to do with just why obedience is so tough. It’s because obedience uncovers our need for growth. Obedience reveals the absolute truth that I am not, despite all my protests to the contrary, self-sufficient. I need to grow. I need to mature. I need to develop an honest ability to look at myself in an honest way. Because the truth is, left to myself, by myself, I am either too easy on myself or too hard on myself. And the spiritual discipline of obedience offers me the path to a more honest ability to be truthful about my own, real, condition.
In short, the discipline of obedience brings be to reality. And reality is the only place where I can clearly see both my weaknesses and my strengths without the polluting influence of arrogance and pride.
In our Gospel Lesson today we see the power of obedience in action. In John 2:1-11 we read the familiar story of the Lord’s first miracle at the Wedding in Cana. You know the story by heart. The Lord and His mother are at a wedding celebration and the host runs out of wine. The Lord’s mother tells her Son “they have no wine.” (verse 3) This statement by Mary sets in motion several revelations that reveal the power of obedience.
First, we see the Lord moved to action by intercession. His mother has told Him of the serious social breach of etiquette that will bring shame on the host and even cloud the memories of the families involved in the wedding feast. She has compassion on these dear people and she turns to her Son Whom she knows can help. Some may be surprised by the Lord’s response to Mary: “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” (verse 4) But remember, the Lord says nothing in the scriptures for His own benefit. All these statements of the Lord in the scripture are for our instruction. His statement reveals the power of intercession. If you learn to obey the simply command of “Ask and you shall receive” you will learn the power of acknowledging both your need for help AND the trustworthiness of your Lord Who loves you.
Next, we see Mary reveal the heart of obedience. “Do whatever he tells you.” (verse 5) A heart that can trust and obey is a heart that has been conditioned by humility and love. Mary’s statement to the servants at this moment reveals the wisdom that comes from obedience. She was trained in this path by her years in the Temple and when she was confronted with the Angel’s promise that she would be the mother of the Messiah, she said “Let it be done to me as you have said. I am the Lord’s handmaiden.” Her direction to the servants nearby was simply a continuation of her life of obedience. Turns out obedience becomes more of a way of life the more you practice it!
Finally, we see the joy of obedience. The Lord has the servants fill the clay pots with water and then take some to the master of the feast. By the time the water reaches the lips of the master of the feast it has become the finest of wines. As difficult as obedience may be, the end result is always deeper joy and clearer sight. When the servants didn’t hesitate to do what seemed to be silly; taking a cup of water to the master of the feast; they showed both trust and a willingness to be misunderstood and even ridiculed for such a ridiculous act. That takes courage. But that’s what obedience builds in a life – the courage to do what must be done.
Today, I know it’s a struggle to learn to obey, especially in a society that seems to be obsessed with “self-esteem.” But the Orthodox Christian path makes no sense without the spiritual discipline of obedience. And this spiritual discipline is best put to use in a regular prayer life, a consistent participation in the liturgical life of the Church, and a willingness to regular confession and direction of a trusted spiritual father. These normal Orthodox obediences lead to spiritual strength, joy, and peace no matter what life throws at you. So, today, “do whatever He tells you.”