In my last post (CLICK HERE to read), I shared with you an episode from my own life about obedience (or the lack thereof) and how it stung me to my core. This week I want to share with you what I learned from this experience.
The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines obedience in the following manner: “submissive to the restraint or command of authority.” I suppose I cannot argue with the accuracy of this definition, but I do believe it is still incredibly lacking in richness. It is almost sterile. A deeper dive into the history of the word reveals that, biblically speaking, obedience is, “to hear God’s Word and act accordingly” (Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary). Ahh, now we are talking. But what does it mean to “act accordingly”? To answer that question, we have to turn to someone in the Bible that exemplified obedience to the perfect degree. This would be St. Joseph, the foster father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
At first glance, it may seem odd to employ St. Joseph to teach us anything. He has only a brief “cameo appearance” in Scripture and has literally no speaking lines whatsoever. Not one single quote is recorded from this great saint. In his silence how can he teach us anything? Yet, his silence is exactly the point. Consider this: when the angel appeared and commanded Joseph to flee into Egypt, we hear no dialogue instigated by Joseph. We read simply that “he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt” (Matthew 2:14).
In case the beauty of St. Joseph’s swift obedience is lost in translation, consider instead what would have happened in the event the angel appeared to Anthony of Denver.
Angel: Rise, take the child and his mother and flee into Mexico. Remain there till I tell you.
Anthony (groggy from sleep): Huh, what? Angel dude, do you have any idea what time it is? It is 1 in the morning! A bit more sleep please.
Angel: I said get up! Herod is searching for the child!
Anthony: Herod? Why would Herod be interested in my kid?
Angel: He wants to kill him!
Anthony: Oh, maybe you should have led with that. You need to work on your intros.
Angel: You are wasting time. Flee! Flee now.
Anthony: Oh, right to Mexico. Ah, you know I don’t speak Spanish, right? What am I gonna do when I get there? How bout we flee to Hawaii instead?
Angel (flabbergasted): Just go!
Anthony: Okay, okay, I’m on it.
The angel disappears but then reappears 20 minutes later.
Angel: Why are you in the kitchen? Didn’t I tell you to run?
Anthony: Actually, I think the word you used was “flee,” but to answer your question, I was packing some snacks. Mexico is a long way from here. Oh, by the way, which part of Mexico am I headed to?
Angel (exasperated): Eegads. If you want something done you have to do it yourself. Fine, I will escort the lady and the child myself!
Although somewhat humorous, the above scenario is also tragic because it cuts too close to the truth of things. Of course, I am not aware of too many times when an angel has appeared and commanded me directly, but how many times has God spoken through circumstance, illness, opportunity to serve, or even in the whispers of prayer? Yet when God commands, my first thought is of comfort, “a few more hours of sleep please.” I hesitate. To do His will means a deviation from my will, and that always seems to entail a loss of comfort.
That’s not all. I doubt. I ask, “why?” as if my understanding were somehow a pre-requisite for obedience. Worse yet, I give God my advice, and I remind Him of my limitations, as if He didn’t already take that into account. I refuse to accept His plan, criticize the way it was delivered, and I inexorably return to ensuring my comfort. What arrogance! The least I could do is hold my pathetic tongue!
This, of course, brings us back to the beauty of the silence of St. Joseph. He is silent because there was no thought of argument, suggestion, or self-importance. Instead, his response is swift and proper. He immediately moves into action. He is silent because there is no room for misplaced curiosity, which often is a veiled attempt to grasp at some artificial hope or sense of control. Rather, he plunges into the darkness and confusion of the night, totally submissive to the Divine command and content with doing The Other’s will. He is silent because he knows to follow God is to accept suffering and so he must be brave, not only for himself, but for his Most Holy Spouse and the Christ Child. Rather than lament the loss of family (extended), friends, and familiarity, he resolutely leads the way trusting that God has a plan, and that plan is ultimately a good one. He is silent because a servant’s joy is found in doing the will of his Master.
There is one more aspect of St. Joseph’s silence that is astonishing: je is silent because his joy is being found in the company of The Most Holy Virgin and in the presence of The Incarnate One. So, if enduring hardship is the price of this closeness, then so be it. If being of service to the Holy Two, even if by standing in the breach and dulling the darts of the enemy before they reach his Beloved Family, then so be it. This relationship is everything to him, and this joy is worth suffering for.
I have a long way to go to have that kind of obedience. But at least I have a clear path and firm counsel in the example of St. Joseph. Best of all, I have his intercession. St. Joseph, pray for us!