Barbara E. Reid
Image
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), Aug. 8, 2010
“By faith Abraham obeyed” (Heb 11:8)

In a rural village in Chiapas, Mexico, an indigenous woman reflects: “My whole life I was taught to obey. First of all, I obeyed my father and mother. At age twelve my father decided whom I would marry. My father and his father made the agreement. I had no say. I could not object that I didn’t even know the man to whom my father had promised me. My only choice was to do my father’s will.

“My father and mother told me to obey the commands of my father-in-law and my mother-in-law and my husband. He said I would only be happy if I obeyed. After I was married I tried to obey my husband in everything. He was the one who always made the decisions. I tried to be an obedient daughter and wife, but my father was wrong. I was not happy. My heart was always sad. I would cry out to God in my prayers, but the only answer I got was that God ordained that it should be this way.”

This woman’s story, along with the stories of others like her, is shared in the book Con Mirada, Mente y Corazon de Mujer. She, through the sharing of Scripture with other women who have learned how to read “with the eyes, mind and heart of a woman” discovered a new meaning of obedience that took her far beyond her initial understanding. In this she is like Abraham and Sarah, as described in the second reading, and like Peter and the other disciples in the Gospel.

The reading from Hebrews emphasizes how obedience flows from faith in a trustworthy God. It elaborates how Abraham obeyed the call from God to go out from the place he knew “not knowing where he was to go.” All he and Sarah had to go on was God’s promise and their experience of generative power that was given to them by God. They set out obediently in faith, because everything they had experienced of God’s gracious goodness led them to trust the Holy One for whatever lay ahead.

The Gospel outlines how one becomes disposed to hear, to know and to act on God’s will. First, one must let go of fear so as to be able to receive the gift of God’s kingdom. This is God’s great joy: to find us unafraid and delighting in this indescribable gift. Obedience out of fear of a punishing God has no place among Jesus’ followers. Rather, obedience is the single-hearted response in faith to the One who is love incarnate and who frees us to love in like manner.

Freeing the heart from attachment to anything but God’s love and God’s realm is the next step in obedience. Selling belongings and giving alms ensures that possessions do not become the treasure that grips the heart. Also needed is a sharpening of the senses, watching intently for all signs of divine presence and directives, through vigilance in prayer and attentiveness to the hungers of our world. Finally, when the master becomes the servant, there is a dismantling of systems wherein some are masters and others servants. The meaning of this parable becomes clear in the Last Supper scene, where it is enacted by Jesus himself.

Obedient faith that dismantles unjust master/servant dichotomies is not an easy road, as women from the Bible study groups in Chiapas attest: “At first we felt guilty; we thought we were disobeying the law of God. It’s been a long process, but we kept talking and listening to one another. Now we know that it is not God who commands it to be so, but it is a matter of culture and education. We were not born to be subservient as we had been made to believe, but to be obedient to God, who wants us to be happy.”

 

Barbara E. Reid, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of Grand Rapids, Mich., is a professor of New Testament studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, Ill., where she is vice president and academic d

Readings: 
Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33:1-22; Heb 11:1-19; Lk 12:32-48
Prayer: 

• How does contemplation and listening to the hungers of the world help you to discern God’s will?

• Enjoy God’s delight in giving us the kingdom.

• How does obedience in faith undermine subservience?