Obedience and disobedience seems to be a good theme to reflect on this Sunday. In the Gospel (Mark 3: 20-35), especially its third part, we see Christ putting a premium on obedience: “For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
In the first reading from Genesis, we have the interesting effect of disobedience or what we know as original sin, vividly portrayed in one of the earliest narratives on “laglagan.” The man blames the woman for the disobedience. The woman then blames the serpent. It’s passing the buck.
To obey is to be faithful, and to disobey is to be unfaithful or even to betray. One Filipino word for being obedient gives us a very vivid feel: “mapagtalima.” It evokes images of fidelity, devotion, truthfulness.
This gives a sense of obedience, an offering of oneself in freedom and in love. Freedom and love come at a price, but let us look at “how” to get there first as this may mitigate our view of the cost.
I am convinced that personal freedom comes with the discovery or rediscovery of one’s identity and integrity: who we are and why we are here, our purpose, meaning and mission.
How does discovery happen? It comes with both setting someone free to discover and setting boundaries. A simple example is what we used to talk a lot about when I was with Ateneo High School. We acknowledged the “young and the restless” stage high school students are in, and that they will always test the boundaries.
However, we also had the faith and even conviction that this testing of limits is actually leading toward choice—the choice of values and principles on which they are to define themselves. This led to a “soul searching” of our rules and policies.
Having too many rules and regulations is a sign of a weak culture stemming from a lack of clarity of identity and mission (the source of integrity) as a community or organization. The core of identity and mission/integrity defines the community and thus is the single most important element in the choice and formation of its members. Everything begins and ends in this core identity and mission/integrity.
We glean from this “how” to get to freedom and love, and so also the price we need to pay. We need to cut the fat, cut to the chase to get to the core. This we see in the Gospel episode this Sunday.
Christ is accused by his own family of being “out of his mind” and the scribes condemn him as “possessed” and in league with the devil.
He is misunderstood, he is betrayed and condemned because of what he sees and lives out as his core identity and mission/integrity: He is the beloved son who came to establish the Kingdom of his Father.
He pays the price with freedom and love. He pays it without regret or excuses—not in weakness and defeat, but with a clear picture of the pain and cruelty of the Passion and Cross. “Father, not my will, but your will be done.” Obedience unto death, “tumalima at naging mapagtalima.”
This pleases his Father and blesses him with “a name above any other name,” the Beloved Son, the Risen Lord. In freedom and love, he lays down his life as he was lifted up on the Cross. With an even greater freedom and love, he is lifted up in the Resurrection.
This identity and mission/integrity is made whole in the Cross and Resurrection—“in dying we are born to eternal life.” The disobedience of Adam and Eve fuses with the obedience of the New Adam, Christ. As the Easter exultet proclaims: “O Happy Fault that has merited us so great a Redeemer.”
Our greatest freedom is ours “for the taking” and is also ours “for the offering” in love. True obedience can come only with freedom and true obedience is exercised only in love. This is the wholeness that comes from a clear identity and mission/integrity—not perfect, but whole.
To be obedient, “mapagtalima,” is not to simply follow the rules and regulations, but it is to listen to and to “follow the voice that calls within,” what God wants us to do.
To be “mapagtalima” is what gives us our deepest identity and mission/integrity, individually, as a family, as a community, as a society because this makes us live in freedom and in love. This is the will of the Father made possible in, with and through the Son and the Spirit.