One word that teenagers do not like to hear is “obedience.” Young people who are breaking away from their parents and launching out into a bigger world prize their freedom above all else. When they hear the word “obey,” they think of restrictions that adults place on them—rules, duties, orders. So, when they associate God with the word “obedience,” they are turned off to him.
What we do not realize is that the root meaning of the word “obey” is “to listen to.” Its primary meaning is not “to be subject to.” Listening is such a beautiful, powerful word. It means attentiveness, intimacy, personal connection. In the stillness of the morning, for example, some like to sit on the back porch and “listen” to the birds chant their morning praises to God. When we truly listen to nature or to one another something deep is awakened within us. We are drawn to be one with the one we are listening to.
Nothing delights God more than when we turn aside from our busyness and listen to him.
Today’s readings are all about obedience, in the deep sense of the word. In Psalm 40 (2,4,7,8,10,11) we hear the Psalmist give praise to God for the gift of obedience:
“Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.”
It is with our “ears” that we are able to “obey.” The Psalmist had been given so many gifts by God, but the one he most valued was the power to listen to the voice of God. His close relationship with his Creator surpassed all the other gifts.
In the gospel reading (Mark 3:31-35) Jesus, once again, shocks us. We can even feel ourselves getting angry at him for the way he seems to treat his mother.
“The mother of Jesus and his brothers arrived at the house (where Jesus was teaching). Standing outside, they sent word to Jesus and called him.”
When they told him that his Mother and brothers and sisters were outside asking for them, he replied:
“Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking around at those seated in the circle he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
Those sitting in the “circle” with Jesus were absorbed in listening to his words. They were drawn into a deep connection with him. They were “obeying” the Father. Now, no one loved and honored his mother, brothers, and sisters more than Jesus did. His heart was deeply connected to them. Can you imagine how stunning it was to this circle of disciples to hear that they were regarded so highly by Jesus, that he put them on the same level or even higher level than this closest relatives? A hundred exclamation points could not have given more emphasis to how serious Jesus was about this teaching.
Had Adam and Eve “listened deeply” to God they would still be in the garden of Eden. “99%” of what he told them was so positive—an abundance of fruit trees, variety of foods, gentle animals, love for one another. There was only one restriction he put on them—and this was to keep them from letting pride deafen them to his voice. And…we know the rest of the story. Our first parents quit listening to God, and chose another’s will instead of his.
In Jesus we also have been given special ears to listen to God. With Jesus our hearts are so much like his that our greatest desire is to “obey” the Father and conform our wills to his. He spoils us with an abundance of gifts every day, and yet still there is that “1 %” that we have such a tendency to fight against.
We are the mother, brothers, and sisters of Jesus! The Holy Spirit has come into our hearts and given us such an intimate connection with God that we can actually listen to his voice. Are we not overwhelmed with what God has done for us?
“Here I am Lord; I come to do your will” (response to today’s Psalm).