Freedom and Obedience

Do these terms seems to contradict each other? Take a closer look, you might be surprised by the result!
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.ner

          In this post modern society we are so saturated with the “Dictatorship of Relativism” (JPII) that our culture has come to completely redefine words and phrases based on want rather than actuality.  I often bristle at reporters, celebs and radio hosts who use the language badly and/or incorrectly.  This is the legacy of thirty-five years as a science teacher as well as an ingrained penchant for accuracy. Four is not five and “kind a” is useless information.  One of the words that we have completely bent out of shape is “freedom”.  Somehow, this term has morphed into meaning that anyone can do or say anything they wish as long as it is self edifying and/or self gratifying.  It’s a free country”, “I have my rights”, “Stay out of MY business”; I’m sure you have heard all of these in one situation or another.  We have completely missed the boat on the concept of freedom and how it plays out in any society. We have eliminated the most critical element that is part of the definition of freedom and tossed it aside: “obedience”.   Does this seem like a contradiction of ideas?  If you understand freedom, it’s really not.   

          Freedom does not have any real relationship to the idea of “self” or “isolationism” while only tending to one’s personal wants and needs.  Freedom can only exist within a greater context.  For instance, when we Americans decided that we no longer wanted to be under royal rule and tax structures we did that as a “people” in a new nation.  Our freedom was designed as a mutual agreement that we were all willing to fight for and uphold and have done so ever since, right down to the current day.   Within that freedom there is a mutual agreement among the population and our government that we have individual rights that operate within the structure of our freedom. Overall however, those rights cannot go as far as destroying or harming any part of the structure which was created as the product of our blood, sweat and lives in the first place.  We fought the Civil war, brother against brother to uphold the right of other humans to be free and not regarded as “things” to be owned and used by others.  

          The concept of freedom only stands within the structure of person to person and the goodness and benefits that can only come because of the formation of a community of like minded individuals.  Freedom, then, comes with responsibilities to others within the structure that created the freedom in the first place.  These responsibilities, then, are played out in the form of obedience to the precepts and foundations of the community at large.  The military that protects our freedoms as Americans would be useless if its members were not obedient to its superiors.  Our police would be powerless if there was no plan or oversight for their actions.  Schools and hospitals would be useless unless someone was giving orders for each of those institutions to function.   Education would not be possible if all students simply did as they pleased and did not have a sense of obedience to teachers and administrators.  Even Jesus gives the clear marks of a hierarchy as he appoints twelve and then seventy-two and gives them clear orders, to be obeyed, about how to preach and travel and what to do if their message was not welcomed (Lk 10).  So we have a prime example that we have to "learn to simply travel along by his [Jesus'] side like the disciples, listening obeying and trusting, carrying out one piece of the plan at a time." (Father John Bartunek, LC,  The Better Part, p.141)

          Even in “The Kingdom” obedience is one of the foremost qualities that is shown to be of paramount value.  How could this possibly jive with the philosophy which teaches that this new way of life will grant the ultimate freedom for all eternity?  It’s a matter of perspective.   In the new kingdom which Jesus establishes, everything that was familiar takes on a brand new meaning.  He wasn’t kidding when he taught: “I make all things new.”   At the forefront of these changes is the understanding of obedience and how it plays out in the New Jerusalem.   In the new heaven and earth, obedience is really the tool which enables us to be smack in the center of the will of God.   It has nothing to do with being docile, wimpy, mindless, a door-mat or someone who has no ability to think for themselves.   One of the most stunning examples of this is Jesus’ very first public miracle.  As a matter of fact, this particular story is actually a double confirmation of the value of obedience in the New Kingdom. 

          Recall the Wedding at Cana (John 2).  Jesus, his Mother and disciples were invited to a wedding.  Like today, weddings were great community celebrations that sometimes lasted for days.   As I read this passage it makes me wonder if Jesus was just trying to relax for one last time because he knew that his public ministry was at hand and he would never have a chance to be stress free again.  Maybe the young bride and groom were friends of Mary?  Could she have known them from their childhood?  Whatever the case might be, she was concerned that the hosts would be embarrassed because they ran out of wine, the worst faux pas of hospitality!   Like any mother that we can probably picture in our heads, she turns to her son to “fix things”; “They have no wine”.    In a response that is literally atypical of any other part of his ministry Jesus returns a snippy response that indicates aggravation; “Woman how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”   Despite his feelings, however, Jesus acts in obedience to his Mother to the benefit and abundant blessing of the young couple!  Next we note Mary’s command to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you.”   This is a literal command to “obey” no matter what.  The servants do and in an occurrence that only these privileged servants and steward get to see they literally participate in the first miracle that the incarnate God performs here on earth.  How many of them were profoundly changed?  How many were converted right then and there?  How many had lives that totally changed direction because of their obedience to Mary and what they saw?  Remember also that it was no ordinary wine that appeared, but the very best that anyone had ever tasted and in an abundance that could not be matched, overflowing literally.   If Jesus was not willing to grudgingly obey his mother and if the servants were not willing to obey Jesus without question, this cascade of miracles would have never transpired.  

          Obedience has its perks.  Frequently one cannot see them before they are manifested.  Obedience is a tool that cannot be matched.   When we finally understand what God’s expectations are for our behavior, obedience is the “next level” that carries us to a spiritual reality of blessings that we could never have imagined while we were disobedient.  Obedience is really a tool to school us in trust at a level that can’t be duplicated any other way.  Obedience is the way that we “Put out into the deep… (JPII) with no idea of where it will lead.  Obedience is the ultimate tool which leads to true freedom.  When one is living by the Lord’s clear guide lines and being obedient to his promises, all other stresses disappear.  It is the position of final freedom that eliminates all of the other choices which vex us the most.  Jesus’ road map leads directly to the freedom train.  Try it; you only have the best wine to look forward to!  

Copyright©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 

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