Son though He was,
He learned obedience
through what He suffered.
Hebrews 5: 8

 I sometimes cringe when I hear people here in Honduras speak of the need to be obedient. It often seems as if they are speaking about a submission to church authority – usually the priest or the bishop. Disobedience often comes across as the worst sin.

I cringe partly because of my first world US emphasis on the individual and the liberty of the conscience of the person, even though I often rant against individualism.

I also cringe because appeal to obedience seems to undercut critical thinking. The appeal to hierarchical authority in whatever realm (politics, church, academia, economics) is not, for me, a good argument.

But most of all I cringe because I feel that it is a way to keep people in their place.

But in today’s first reading from the Letter to the Hebrews (5: 1- 10), we hear that Christ learned obedience through what he suffered.

What does obedience really mean?

In both Greek (ὑπακούω) and Latin (obedientia), the root of the word translated as obedience is the word that means “hear.” In one sense, the word obedience has something to do with hearing, listening, paying attention.

I checked several Greek dictionaries. One gave a series of meanings; the last one was “to open (the door).” Another (Strong’s) noted that the first meaning of the word is “to hear under (as a subordinate), i.e. to listen attentively.”

Jesus learned to listen attentively as a subordinate, from the underside.

I know that this primarily means that Jesus listens attentively  to the Father and that His will is one with the Father.

But I can’t help but think of another possible interpretation (which may just be reading into the text.)

Jesus, sharing in the suffering of the peoples of this world, listens from the underside, from the position of one who is inferior, who is commanded.

Jesus came among us as a poor man and knows the situation of the poor. He can help us read the world from their perspective, from the underside, from the perspective of the poor.

And then, maybe, we can begin to listen authentically and attentively to God.


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