“If John told you to jump in front of a train, would you?!”
When I was a small child, my grandparents had a cold frame in the garden. It was a bit of an eyesore to be honest, thrown together by my grandfather from old planks of wood and irregular panes of glass he’d reclaimed from the dismantled greenhouse. One afternoon, I was playing in the garden when my cousin John told me with all the sincerity a ten year old can muster that he had learned a magic trick. He could make things disappear. Now I was only five but I smelled a rat.
“No it’s true!”, John insisted, “Look, I’ll show you. You take this broom and push it through the cold frame and I’ll say the magic words and the glass will disappear”
“Yeah but how will you get the glass back?”
Sounded reasonable. I dutifully picked up the stick, aimed it at a pane of glass and waited for the magic words. And we all know how this story ends don’t we? With shards of broken glass all over the ground and a very angry grandmother who asked me, “If John told you to jump in front of a train, would you?!” – I admitted that I probably wouldn’t but how many of us heard the very same line of reasoning from our own frustrated parents? In breaking the glass, I’d forgotten that I should have been obedient to my grandparents who had always told us to leave the cold frame alone. It was for our own safety and yet, we thought we knew better. John lied to gain my trust and in my curiosity, I broke the rules and got into trouble as a result. Are you doing the same thing in your relationship with God?
We all know that religious take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Their obedience is to those who have been placed above them, who have a responsibility to keep them safe and healthy but their obedience is first and foremost to God and to His will. “Yeah but….I’m no religious” – maybe not. But you don’t all have to tie a knot in our belts and take a formal vow to be obedient. Your calling may not be to take holy orders but you are absolutely called to obedience just the same. Obedience to your parents, obedience to the Church, obedience to God. We accepted that call when we accepted the Lord and promised to do His will. It may be hard, it may make us curious about what life would be if we called the shots and sometimes we may find that obedience tested to the very limit – but we can never lose sight of the fact that we are commanded to love God and to obey Him in all things. As Cardinal Arinze once said, “It isn’t about breaking church law – it’s about breaking divine law”. In other words – God comes first.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we read how Peter and John healed a lame man in the name of Jesus. Many questioned their authority to do this but their authority came from God. Jesus said, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church” (not community, sorry New Jerusalem Bible readers) and Peter accepted that ministry (eventually!) because he respected God’s will. He was obedient to the calling he was given. So when Peter and John were arrested for their miraculous act, they were taken before the Sanhedrin (a council of Jewish elders) who demanded they stop. In their view, they’d crucified Jesus and that should have served as a warning. The Christian cult should have died out and yet here were the Apostles keeping it alive. They ordered Peter to stop his ministry, to stop preaching the words of Jesus and to stop healing people but Peter was unswerving in his devotion. The Bible specifically remarks on his bravery as he stood before these men and told them, “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”.
Peter took a decision he knew would anger the council because he knew his action was pleasing to God. His obedience to God came first in all things. And so it should be for us.
The Acts of the Apostles begins with the election of Matthias as an Apostle and I don’t think that’s any coincidence. It hasn’t been included to remind us that Matthias was a good and faithful servant of Jesus, it’s there to remind us that Judas wasn’t. He sold his soul, he denied God’s will….he was not obedient. And he paid a terrible price. So how can we be more like Peter, John and Matthias and less like Judas? How can we show our obedience to God?
I think all religious people struggle at election time. We’re faced with lots of people telling us why they’d be best for the job and most will make a thousand promises we know they could never really keep. But we’ve got to vote for one of them right? So we study their platform, we think what we need, what our country needs and we cast our vote. Let’s say that we own a business. It’s really on it’s uppers and if it goes under, we’re likely to lose everything. Our home, the car, the TV – if we miss just one more payment, it’s all gone. Two candidates come along and ask for our vote. One says he wants to give struggling businesses a tax free payment of $10,000. He’s pro-euthanasia, pro-same sex marriage, pro-choice and anti-religious freedoms. His rival says he can’t commit to giving a tax free payment of $10,000, he can barely promise $500, but he’s anti-euthanasia, anti-same sex marriage, pro-life and a faithful Catholic. Which candidate would get your vote?
In a situation like this one, we can’t just look at our own desires and needs. We are all given crosses to bear and sometimes they can overwhelm us. We know they should bring us closer to God but we still struggle and we become hopeless and even fall into despair. But let’s say that you vote for the first candidate and you get the $10,000. You pay off your debts and there’s enough left to take a luxury cruise. Out at sea, the ship hits a rock and you drown. Standing in front of the Lord, you explain that you’re a good Catholic. You never missed Mass, you never took His name in vain, you never stole, you never lied, you loved your neighbour – you’re one of the good guys. And the Lord takes you to one side and shows you what you’ve left behind. Babies murdered in the womb. The elderly killed for convenience. The sacrament of marriage desecrated. All that for a lousy $10,000. Now I know what you’re saying. “Ah but my one vote didn’t make all that much of a difference” – it made enough of a difference for you to get the $10,000 didn’t it? You sanctioned an unGodly act. However small your role, you enabled God’s will to be forgotten. You enabled God’s divine law to be ignored, trampled on, rejected at a cost to so many innocent people. You put yourself first. You were disobedient.
At some time in our lives, we’re all Peter before that council. We all have the world against us at times and we find ourselves alone and intimidated by the majority. Our morals are questioned, our beliefs are mocked, we may even be told that our faith isn’t important or welcome. But like Peter, we have to make a stand. We have to be just as brave as he was. Peter was given authority by God to build His church. And through that church, we’re given strength, we’re given hope and we’re given love. So when the chance comes to make that stand, we must make it even if it means a difficult loss. In defying the Sanhedrin, Peter was flogged. But in being obedient to the will of God, he lifted his soul to the Lord and continued to do great things. Today, the world is the Sanhedrin. “Christians believe in fairy stories”, “Christians are hypocrites”, “Christians are insignificant”. You’ve heard them all. But when the world accuses you, stand firm and stay obedient to God. Remind yourself that God has a plan for you, God has a will for you and when you remember that and live according to that will and plan – God will show his love for you. Always.
Don’t just do what the world wants you to do because it’s easier. Do what’s right because it’s pleasing to God. That’s what obedience is. It won’t always be easy but I promise you that it’s far better to lose everything you have than it is to lose your soul. And yes, you may lose friends. Take comfort in Jesus. He’s your closest and dearest friend and He’ll comfort you. Yes, you may feel hopeless. He’ll give you hope. Being obedient is a test of faith. It gives us the opportunity to lift our crosses to Jesus and say, “Lord, I bear this out of love for you”. Because just as obeying your parents shows respect and love for them, obeying God and His will shows respect and love for Him. Remember the words of St Peter before that council; “Obedience to God comes before obedience to men”.