The dynamic in this Gospel is an ages-old story. It happens in families, between friends, in the work force and in monastic community. The situation Jesus poses is rather straight-forward. Two sons are given the same task by their father: one asserts his objection, right up-front but in the end obeys his father’s wish. The second son signifies obedience in his words but his actions betray his words.
The question that Jesus poses is direct: Which son did what the father wanted? Jesus could ask us the same question. Do our words reflect our obedience to God? God desires a full conversion of heart – that our actions (and our words as well) will give evidence of our love for God. The older brother had no intention of working and had the honesty to say so. He was in the wrong, but he was honest. The younger brother was the opposite. He said the expedient thing knowing what his father wanted to hear but he had no integrity.
For Benedict obedience is central. As postulants when we officially knocked on the door and asked to be received as a candidate we were greeted with the question: “What do you seek?” We declared that we’d come to the monastery to hear and seek God. To do that you have to be willing to listen and then obey God’s voice as heard in personal prayer, in the voice of the superior and in interactions with each other. Benedict asks that our obedience be open, honest, prompt and positive, (even if it is painful) and given without murmuring.
We would do well to recall both this gospel story, and Benedict’s words about obeying with alacrity, when we are asked to do a favor for one of our sisters or a co-worker. We know that for Benedict, murmuring was an abomination, anathema, a curse in community and any sign of grumbling was to be censured.
In one of her first commentaries on the Rule, Joan Chittister suggests: Say to the member who signs up for a task but then complains, “Please don’t sign up. Kindly give the community the gift of not murmuring about it. The rest of the community will get the work done. Please just stay home and keep a smile on your face. Don’t do the work and then poison the environment of the house with murmuring.”
Oh, you may think: it’s easy for you to talk about obedience. You’re the prioress, who do you have to obey? Bear in mind that the leader, any leader, may have some authority with her position, but the power lies in the hands and will of the membership. Obedience in monastic life is mutual. It springs from the bloom of mutual respect. Without both, there is no community. There is just a group of women living under the same roof. Thankfully for all of us, in life, growth is always possible. It’s not how we start that matters, it’s how we finish! “It isn’t over, til it’s over!”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
Have a pleasant week! Happy feast of your Guardian Angel and the Feast of the Holy Rosary!