Obedience to authority is following the will of God. Once upon a time, I heard people claim that obeying your superiors in all things was the prime virtue: God speaks through those in authority and it is not important whether or not you agree with them. Blind obedience was and is in many cases required: the law is the law and must be obeyed. I hear this theory expressed in Basic Training for the Air Force and then again in the Novitiate for the Clerics of Saint Viator. I had a difficult time accepting that concept then and still have a problem with it. Today, we still hear many voices claiming that the law is the law and must be obeyed at all times; individual circumstances are irrelevant.
But I also remember when Racial Segregation was legal and enforced by the law – and when. by law, African Americans were not allowed to sit on juries, and were not allowed in motels, churches, neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, simply because of the color of their skin. At one time, slavery was itself enforced as the law of the land, and seen as following the will of God. Empires were created to steal the wealth of specific nations and the theft of national wealth was enforced by law and approved by the Pope. The so-called civilized nations were pillaging and bringing salvation to the pagans of the world.
I remember when a Catholic married a non-Catholic; they were married in the rectory but were allowed to celebrate in a Catholic Church. There was a time when women were legally denied the right to vote or to own property. Legally, inter-racial marriages were prohibited and the penalty would be jail or even lynching, condoned by the culture of the time and place. Death by burning was at one time legal for heresy or for not following the approved Religion. Today, there are still laws in many places that condemn others to death for not following the approved customs – so called honor-killings are accepted and enforced in many cultures of our world. And in most of the cases listed here as well as hundreds of others; these laws have been enforced as reflecting the mind of God.
Slaves were and are taught to obey their masters. If they obey, they just might be allowed to have food to eat and a place to sleep. They live in a world where those in power provide a minimum reward for maximum service. This form of conditioning is part of the human condition. We are taught obedience from the time of birth and yet we struggle early in our lives to be free to make our own decisions and to be free, even at the expense of the freedom of others. Always, we strive for the reward that defines our hopes and our fears; approval of parents and family, approval of teachers, coaches and friends, approval of our employers and of our wider society. When we can’t find this approval in one place, we search for it somewhere else. In all of this, we reflect the cultural values of those whose approval we seek. We become racists, fanatics, willing to rob and to rape others for the approval of our peers. We join in group activities that are positive or negative; life giving or death giving for approval Signs of approval might be wealth, status, or just belonging. Relationships are critical.
Today,, we hear the lout demands that immigrants that came to our nation as infants and who are not legally documents, be sent back to their country of origin. It makes no difference if they have served in the military, become educated and productive citizens; the law is the law. Many are willing to break up families and to destroy lives because their kind are not welcome here and therefore the law must be obeyed. Unjust laws have always been around while others have fought to have these laws overturned. This is true, not just within civil society but with religious organizations as well. We erect false gods and worship them in place of the God of Creation; the God in love with all that is. These unjust laws are usually overturned in time and with great struggle. Life itself is not transformed without struggle and pain. To place ourselves in the place of others is demanding and eye-opening.
In so many cases, freedom is a myth; very few of us are truly free – at all times and in all circumstances. We say we value freedom, but true freedom is gained only through struggle and a willingness to give up those things that cultures claim are so critical. Jesus showed us how to be free; to be willing to give up everything; to empty himself of all pride and desire for approval and power – even life itself. The Book of Genesis tells us that we were made in the image and likeness of God; that we were given the gift of freedom to choose life or death. With freedom comes responsibility. Freedom is only possible with the gift of consciousness – of awareness. Jesus said to his disciples time after time; “Look” – “Listen” and move beyond the artificial boundaries. The Law is meant to serve, not to serve. Jesus taught us to respect the law but not to worship it. The Law is wrapped up in the Ten Commandments, and these commandments are wrapped up in the one of self and neighbor and seeing in all of creation – the spirit of God at work. To treat others the way we would want to be treated. If we would not want to be a slave or to be treated like garbage, why would we treat anyone else that way? Our world and all of life is seen as good; as a gift to be treasured and nurtured, and then shared. This takes conscious awareness and freedom and none of these come easy. They demand a struggle within the life of the spirit that resides within each and everyone of us.
Freedom and Slavery; Light and Darkness; Life and Death. We are called to Life; that is the call of Jesus, the Christ; That is the call of God that gives us life and who walks with us calling us to follow, but giving us the choice to say yes or no. All of creation is connected; all life is connected and all of humanity, is connected in time and space.