One day a man arrived from Baal Shalishah. He brought the man of God twenty loaves of fresh baked bread from the early harvest, along with a few apples from the orchard.
Elisha said, "Pass it around to the people to eat."
His servant said, "For a hundred men? There's not nearly enough!"
Elisha said, "Just go ahead and do it. God says there's plenty."
And sure enough, there was. He passed around what he had -- they not only ate, but had leftovers.
-- 2 Kings 4:42-44 (The Message)
I've been thinking about obedience lately. It's not an attitude or word most people think of in a positive way. It's almost archaic. It's kind of belittling nowadays to say that someone is obedient. And yet, "obedience" has received a lot of attention this week.
Earlier in the week, I was reconsidering the advice of two people, two leaders in my church, on how to proceed with a personal matter. They had each advised me to wait. I did not want to wait. I wanted to follow my own instincts, my own lead. Then I read the lectionary for that day: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls and will give an account." (Hebrew 13:17) Needless to say, all the resistance in me subsided, and I resigned myself to following their advice. For I have learned to listen to words that answer my thoughts so well as that.
Then, again the following day, "obedience" came up when I was applying for a job, online. I had to take a personality/psychological test as part of the company's application process. The first question I had trouble with, very early in the test, was: "Would your friends say you are obedient?"
Hmmmm. Well, first of all, whether I am obedient or not, I seriously doubt that my friends would describe me this way. It's an odd thing to say: "She is obedient." Second of all, am I obedient? The recent struggle described above came to mind. Sometimes I am obedient. Most of the time, actually, I follow the rules, the norms of our society, the law, the advice of people in authority, especially wise and experienced leaders. But not always. Sometimes, for very important matters, I have had to disagree with people, even people in positions of authority over me, even people of greater experience than me, and insist on an alternative way. But always, in these crucial matters, I have felt that I was listening to God, my ultimate authority.
However, on the test, I wasn't able to say all that. I had to choose between "Strongly Disagree", "Disagree", "Neutral", "Agree" or "Strongly Agree". I chose "Neutral." And as I progressed through the test, this question of authority kept coming up. "Do you like to challenge authority?" "Do you always follow the advice of your supervisor?" Clearly this was an important consideration for this company, whether for or against obedience I wasn't sure -- though I suspected that they were for it.
Other questions on the test had to do with how one makes decisions. "Do you consider all of the facts before you make a decision?" "Do you consider peoples' feelings when making a decision?" "Do you think of how a decision would impact the future?" "Are your decisions based upon what could realistically be accomplished?"
Isn't it interesting how differently the world works compared to how God works? We are encouraged to consider all of the facts, to think of the impact of our decisions on ourselves or others. We certainly are not encouraged to base our decisions on something that cannot be realistically accomplished. And yet God asks us to do seemingly impossible things. Never mind whether it makes sense logically or not. Never mind about the future. Never mind whether we actually have the strength to do them or not. Never mind whether we even want to do them or not.
For example, God asks us to fed the hungry. God asks us to sell our goods to help the poor. God asks us to take care of the sick, the orphan. God asks us to visit the lonely, the imprisoned. Primarily, God asks us to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The question is, do we obey? Do I obey?
Not always. Sometimes I think more about myself than about my neighbor.
Like the other day, when I saw a man asking for help on the corner. The only thing I had in my wallet was a twenty dollar bill. I thought, "Wow, that's a lot of money. My budget is tight this week. I may need some of that later." I wondered what else I could give him. Since the kids and I had just picked up some food to take home for lunch, I thought about giving him some of that. But then I thought, "No, if I give him some of our food, then we won't have enough." Later, as I sat in the kitchen of our house, with some of the food from lunch left entirely untouched, I realized that I had once again failed to listen to God.
We have so much, I thought, and I fail way too often to help those in need.
Full of remorse, I vowed to do things differently the next time. After all, what if the man on the street corner had been my brother?
This is not exactly a hypothetical question. My brother has been out of work for nearly two years. He is about to lose his house. He is one very short step away from begging on a street corner. Since I don't want my brother to go hungry, I help pay for his food. Since I don't want my brother to die, I pay for his medicine. Thankfully, with the help of my husband, I can afford this. But now, since I don't want my brother to live on the streets, will I pay for his shelter? Yes, I will. Even though I don't know how we will manage that at the moment.
So, since I will do all within my power, and with God's help, all beyond my power, to help my brother, why do I not do this for others as well? Why do I not see them as my brother, or sister -- as Jesus taught us?
There is still so much for me to learn on this journey of faith.
Dear God, thank you for being with me despite my failures, and for providing me with all the help and guidance I need to follow your will. Love always, Pam