Last week I wrote about that wildly popular virtue—obedience. I suggested that a more significant reason to obey exists than I’d mentioned so far. There’s more to the question of obedience than consequences or what other people think or do. There is a reason to obey in seemingly insignificant matters or when it’s inconvenient or if it’s a Church teaching we don’t understand. It is the simplest and most beautiful reason in the world. That reason is love.
Jesus Himself gave us this reason, when He said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands” (Jn 14:15). This makes a lot of sense on its own. It makes even more sense when we consider human relationships. Anyone with children can appreciate that you feel loved when your child obeys promptly and cheerfully, and not so loved when she rebels. We can see this also between people “in love,” even if they don’t usually issue commands to one another. If you truly love someone, you avoid doing what offends or hurts your beloved. Instead, you seek opportunities to do the things that please your beloved.
If we do this for each other, how much more should we do so for God, who as our Creator has the right to command us, as well as the right to our gratitude and service, He who died for us! Is there anything we should refuse to do for Him or refuse to stop doing?
Jesus didn’t merely tell us to obey; He also lived out obedience. He was the prime example of obedience. The will of the Father meant more to Him than anything. When he began his public ministry by coming to John the Baptist for baptism, John said, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Baptism was a symbol of repentance and purification. Jesus needed neither, for He had never sinned. Yet he replied, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt 3:14-15). He was giving us an example. He desired to show His love for the Father in obedience even to laws that did not apply to Him.
The greatest demonstration of how great Christ's love for the Father was of course His Passion, especially clear in His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Despite His desiring to avoid the coming torture so desperately that He suffered agony and sweat blood, He still ended every plea to the Father with, “Still, let it be as you would have it, not as I.” His love for the Father outweighed any consideration for Himself, even excruciating pain and death. This love meant nothing if it did not mean obeying the Father’s will.
His Passion, crucifixion, and death, while bringing about our salvation, are at the same time an illustration of loving obedience. He “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). He not only asks loving obedience of us, He demonstrates it beyond what we will ever have to experience.
As we saw earlier, Jesus also stated this truth explicitly at the Last Supper. It was obviously very important to Him, for He repeated it twice more in the same discourse. “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (Jn 14:21; see also Jn 15:11).
It is the apostle John who records these words in his Gospel, and they clearly made a deep impression on him, for he comes back to them again and again in his letters, especially in the First Letter of John (see for instance 1 Jn 3:6, 24, and 5:3). He even makes it the litmus test of the true disciple: “He who says, ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected" (1 Jn 2:3-5).
Could God have made it any clearer?
“Love is proved by deeds,” said St. Teresa of Avila. It is much easier to say that we love than to love truly. We can even fool ourselves: we think that we love, until the rubber hits the road. When push comes to shove, our love isn’t as strong or deep as we thought it was.
We may be like the seed that fell on rocky ground in Christ’s parable: one who “hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately falls away” (Mt 13: 20-22). We ourselves do not know if we are one of these… until we find it too difficult to obey God, even out of love. (That's when we need to turn to Him and ask for His grace, for we "can do all things in Christ who strengthens [us].")
Seen in this light—the light of love—these matters become opportunities to express our love for God. We can show Him our love on our way to the grocery store or at work. We can show our love for Jesus by stopping at that lonely stop sign when there isn’t another soul in sight or by buying our own copy rather than copying something illegally. We could obey a teaching we don't like or understand. The more it hurts to obey, the more love we show Him.