When I was a child, life was easiest, best, and freest when I was obedient to my parents. When I submitted my will to theirs, there was peace. When I exerted my will against theirs, difficulties inevitably arose. And while my children sometimes whine that they can’t wait to be adults “who can do whatever they want,” obedience is expected of every adult. We have bosses and deadlines. Even if we are our own bosses, we have authorities that we must answer to—civil laws and procedures that we must bend our wills to. Again, if we are obedient, life is fairly smooth as far as the people whom we serve are concerned.
Of course, all of us are also called to obey God. Some of us may think that obedience to God is simple. We have very little difficulty obeying him when that obedience seems to have little bearing on my life. For instance, never once have I been tempted to kill another man. (It is there in my heart, certainly, but never have I seriously contemplated it.) And so the commandment, "Do not kill," is a relatively easy commandment for me to follow. So we go about our business, wondering why another person struggles with, or even flouts, what the Scriptures say. We feel certain that our views are consistent with God’s because they are consistent with a plain reading of the Scriptures.
We are blind.
Consider Jesus for a moment. He did not spend much time with those who knew themselves to be religious. They condemned their fellow man, thinking that those people were twice as bad as themselves. Do you remember them? “Those Pharisees . . .” we often think. But we are the pharisees and religious leaders of our day. If we believe that we are following God yet condemn whole groups of people for not following him, then we are playing our part well.
Jesus was obedient to his Father’s will. His obedience won salvation for all who would desire it—for all who would understand their need for it. To paraphrase Christ’s metaphor in Matthew 9:12, healthy people don’t understand they need a doctor. If you think you are well, or have been made well and that’s that, then beware. It is the repentant tax collector who goes home justified—not because he has lived well, as the Pharisee outwardly has, but because he understands that he has not lived well and is properly contrite. He understands his need for God’s mercy, and that is what he cries out for.
The older I get, the more I realize what an unmerciful servant I am and have been. I am the Pharisee, not the tax collector. I am the disciple who asks whether I should call down fire on sinners (Luke 9:54-55). I am a blind beggar who does not cry out for mercy because he thinks he is whole.
Sure, it is easy for some of us to avoid what we have always been taught were the terrible sins the Scriptures speak of. But we have missed Christ. What did he teach us? He said that hell is in our hearts, that anger and lust are as bad as murder and adultery. He said that we must love our enemies, that we must love whom Christ loves (that is, everyone) if we would have communion with him. He said that if we judge others, then we too will be judged. We have been forgiven much, so we must love much and not be unmerciful. The Scriptures extol humility; contrition; justice and kindness for the foreigners and strangers among us; feeding the hungry and poor; clothing the naked; visiting those in prison; taking care of the widow and orphan. We must view others as better than ourselves, making ourselves the servant of all, as our Lord did. We must forgive the brothers or sisters who hurt us so, who hurt us again and again without remorse.
Do these things and you shall live. Why? Because then you will be obeying the will of the Father. You will be uniting yourself to and participating in the life of God. Love God and love your neighbor—this is the will of the Father for you. Be obedient. And love and pray always for all people. Obey God in these ways, and you will find peace with him. He loves you. He loves your neighbor. He loves your enemy.