By Susan Hutchens, OSB
“Obedience” is a word that sometimes gets a bum rap. We’ve come to see it as a negative thing, requiring a response because of a directive – Do this! or Don’t do it! Or else!
But it has a very positive side too. I choose to ‘obey,’ to do what needs to be done, out of love for another, or belief in a principle.
We’ve all heard the story in Scripture (Mt. 21) of the 2 sons whose father asked them to go work in the vineyard. One son immediately said “No,” but after further thought – maybe of the consequences, or maybe of what he knew to be the right thing (no judgment here) – he did go to work.
The other said, “Sure, I’ll go.” But on second thought he decided that was not really how he wanted to spend the day, and never showed up.
The question Jesus asks is: who was the obedient son?
The answer for most of us is pretty clear. But why is it so clear? How did we decide?
The first word of St. Benedict’s Rule is “Listen.”
For Benedict, listening demands a response, which is where obedience begins. Benedict writes, “Listen … and incline the ear of your heart.”
I like to think of this as leaning one’s heart toward God.
But, lest you think that means you have to pray all day, that’s just not true.
We do this every time we listen to another – whether a colleague or supervisor at work, a child crying for attention, a friend sharing a recent hurt or joy.
We listen to others, to our surroundings – vibrant sunsets, birds singing, horns honking – to life all around us, every waking moment.
It is from those people, sounds and sights we allow into our hearts that we learn the meaning of obedience.
We respond to each of them in many different ways every day.
The questions are: To whom or to what am I listening? What do I hear? What is the “ear of my heart” suggesting I do? What do I know or feel deep inside that gives me the correct response?
Obedience is not about doing something because someone says ‘you should.’ Rather, it’s about responding because your heart says ‘you must.’
What will the ear of your heart reveal today?