Christ is risen!
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 me 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 or shame and despondency. Obedience sets me free to see myself as God sees me!
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.
At that time, there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; Jesus also was invited to the wedding, with his disciples. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast.” So they took it. When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
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, as we live in the afterglow of Pascha and we move from the Sunday of Thomas the Believer to the Sunday of of the brave Myrrhbearers, 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 this 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.” If you do this, you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Listen this Sunday night for a brand new Faith Encouraged LIVE program. Our topic will be “Women in Ministry.” Learn the timeless wisdom of the Orthodox faith in seeing how valuable women are to the ministry in the Church. It’s this Sunday on Ancient Faith Radio at 8 PM Eastern. Also, Happy Birthday Fr. Barnabas!