Chapter 5 of Benedict’s Rule speaks to the topic of “Obedience” – as a step toward humility and best expressed unhesitatingly. Not the most popular of themes for today. We may speak of the obedience of dogs while being trained by their owner, but among people this gets scant coverage. We live in a world where we’re encouraged to do our own thing and obey what our instincts call us to fulfill, not necessarily obey what others may request of us. This happens in politics, business, education, and even the church and the family.
Benedict is pretty straight forward about his convictions about obedience. And, they are based in several Scriptures, such as “No sooner did he hear than he obeyed me” (Psalm 17:45); “Whoever listens to you, listens to me” (Luke 10:16 ); and “I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). Very specifically, his belief about the priority of obedience comes from the need to listen carefully to the voice and teachings of Christ. Listening is the core discipline that underlies the obedient response. Good listening to God evokes faithful living for God. This translates to the obedience of the voice of authority in disciplined attitudes and actions.
And, it is love that impels one to pursue everlasting life. That’s how Benedict promoted obedience and one’s eagerness to take the narrow road that leads to the abundant life. Here he contrasts a life that “gives in to the whims and appetites” rather than walking according to the judgment of another’s decisions and directions. To choose to obey the leadership of another with a glad heart and without grudge or grumble is what pleases the Lord. To do so in any other way would be to live out of favor with God. When “grumbling is in his heart” there will be no reward for service of any kind. Benedict promotes the priority of the heart in all matters great and small.
It’s interesting to observe that the following chapter in Benedict’s Rule, chapter 6, deals with “Restraint of Speech” and here he reminds his followers to consider the psalmist’s counsel “I have resolved to keep watch over my ways that I may never sin with my tongue. I have put a guard on my mouth. I was silent and was humbled, and I refrained even from good works” (Psalm 38: 2,3). The strong message here: evil speech must be always be curbed and left unsaid silence is often more powerful than even the best of words. Humility and submission trumps any form of vulgarity and gossip, for the former promotes a life of obedience and the latter is all about an independent spirit.
Benedict’s Rule is all about a heart of loving obedience first and foremost to God and then faithfully lived out in community. I wonder what life and ministry would look like if we dealt more specifically with the subject of “obedience” especially in our homes and churches. Would we agree on what obedience means both theoretically and practically?
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