Fr. Benedict Groeschel, CFR
Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name. (Phil 2:6-9)
I would imagine that most people understand the value of obedience in normal everyday life—obedience to traffic laws, obedience to parents just to name a few—but who thinks about Jesus as “Most Obedient”? It seems strange that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity had to be obedient, doesn’t it? Yet, His obedience to the Father was the source of all blessings for the human race, and was hardly a trifling matter for Him. His decision to suffer death for the sins of mankind caused Him to sweat blood in agony and was one which He had to resolutely decide to follow through with even though it would cost Him everything. To me, the ultimate test of His obedience was when He chose His Father’s Will in the face of extreme temptation to bail out.
In Mel Gibson’s marvelous movie, The Passion of the Christ, he shows the devil tempting Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was undoubtedly His “moment of truth.” The wicked devil is dressed like a monk and speaks with a very soft, suggestive voice saying, “Isn’t it too hard for one man to take on the sins of the whole world?” An ordinary man would have caved in at that moment, but Jesus chose instead to “reject Satan and all his works and all his empty promises,” and He then violently crushed the head of the serpent that crawled out from beneath the devil’s robes. It was a perfect re-creation of what must have happened at the moment when Jesus chose obedience instead of the easy way out.
We should never minimize the true self-renunciation and difficulty that obedience requires. At the same time, we should not exaggerate them but look at the magnificent blessings that flow from every act of authentic obedience. This last point is actually a lesson that I learned from my own experience of religious obedience, and I hope that the following story will show you what I mean.
About thirty-nine years ago I was asked by the saintly Terence Cardinal Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York, to begin a retreat house for priests in a very posh area north of New York City. Now, because of my Franciscan spirit, I was looking forward to spending my priesthood ministering to the inner city poor. I had spent the previous fourteen years serving underprivileged kids in a tough area of the Bronx, and I was really in my element. I was in for a rude awakening, however, the day that the Cardinal took me to the empty mansion in Larchmont, NY and told me that he wanted me to live there as retreat director. Because this is a devotional book I cannot actually repeat the language I used when I first laid eyes upon the place, but suffice it to say, I was not at all happy about the Cardinal’s plan! I saw Larchmont as the world’s largest cemetery and felt that His Eminence wanted me to be the undertaker. I was devastated to say the least, but I told him yes, knowing in my heart that his will represented the Will of God for me in this case.
Now I do not tell you about my obedience to the Cardinal’s wishes in order to make myself into someone special. I am not. I am only a soldier under orders, but I am human too, and the decision to live in a fancy neighborhood and start a priest retreat house was overwhelmingly difficult for me. Yet, the blessing that resulted from that obedience was to be seen in the next four decades of service: some fifty priests who had left the priesthood came back to ministry through Trinity Retreat House, hundreds of priests have lived there for a short space of time while making transitions in their lives, and literally thousands of good priests have had their priesthood fortified by retreats which the Cardinal in his wisdom knew would refresh the souls of so many good men serving on the front lines. I can only say that it was despite myself that so much good has happened at Trinity over the years, but the main lesson for me has been one of obedience. What blessings have flowed from that one act of obedience!
In this sense, Jesus is the “Most Obedient” of all men. His obedience overturned the consequences of the disobedience of Adam and Eve and brought blessing in its place. His obedience required “self-emptying” and even the feeling of “becoming like a slave,” the standard emotions that accompany all true obedience. And yet, because He knows what obedience is, He can meet us at those decision points in our lives when we would rather do something else, when we feel like slaves to others or empty of all that is legitimately ours. Perhaps this would be a good moment to reflect on our own particular call(s) to holy obedience and turn to Him for help in doing the right thing, fully confident that superabundant blessings will flow from being obedient to the divine plan.
O Jesus, Most Obedient, you are the model of obedience for all who struggle to do what is right in this world. Teach us obedience, not just as a matter of external conformity but as a way of life, and we will trust the guidance of your Holy Spirit to lead us on the way to heaven. Amen.
[Excerpted from: Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Jesus and Mary: In Praise of their Glorious Names, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.: Huntington, Indiana, 2012.]