A spirit of obedience is essential to the nature of a servant. By this I do not mean simply doing what one is told when commanded to by a superior. This is obedience in practice, but a mentality of obedience goes far deeper. One could say this mentality of obedience was practiced perfectly by the last person one might expect it to be in the Scriptures: by a pagan:
And when he had entered into Capharnaum, there came to him a centurion, beseeching him, 6 and saying, Lord, my servant lies at home sick of the palsy, and is grievously tormented. 7 And Jesus said to him: I will come and heal him. 8 And the centurion, making answer, said: Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed. 9 For I also am a man subject to authority, having under me soldiers; and I say to this, Go, and he goes, and to another Come, and he comes, and to my servant, Do this, and he does it. 10 And Jesus hearing this, marvelled; and said to them that followed him: Amen I say to you, I have not found so great faith in Israel.
We repeat a version of these words every Sunday at Mass. Yet the first part of the statement is not necessarily what is important. He states something most peculiar about his lot in life, and Christ is marveled by his response. Why is this so?
We first note that the centurion states “I am also a man subject to authority.” He recognizes that no matter how important he may appear, ultimately he is subject to someone higher. This limits what he can and can not do. There are those today who boast of their supposed “independence”, failing to realize that this chain described by the centurion always exists in one’s life. Knowing one’s limits as a human person is the first step of any concept of obedience.
Such a mentality also allows you to devote more focus to those things that are within your limits. This centurion was not developing battle plans for extensive campaigns throughout the region. That was the job of others. His job was to lead the group given to him. He devotes himself entirely to things within his sphere. For we Christians, there are things beyond our control, and they are pointless to try and become involved in. Instead, let us focus on those things within, and focus on them entirely.
The next portion of this statement from the centurion describes his authority. When he says something, it is accomplished. His men do not discuss in a committee. When an order from their legitimate superior is given, they complied. The centurion likewise subjects himself to this order by placing himself under the authority of superiors. When his superiors commanded something, he knew they would be accomplished, by himself and his men. He understands Christ clearly to be his superior, and capable of healing. If Christ would but command it, it would be done. There’s no reason for Christ to trouble himself beyond this. The centurion understands Christ’s power!
Likewise, we Christians of today are called to adopt this mentality. When someone who is of legitimate authority asks of something that is not sinful, we are called to comply. Whether it is our boss, spouse, political representatives, etc, we are called to comply. Even, and especially if we do not like them, this gives us all the more reason to be obedient.
If we understand this concept being obedient, we must comprehend all the more the warning for those who give command. The centurion knew well that a bad plan or command on his part could very well lead not only to the loss of his own life, but the life of all those he was responsible for. Likewise, when a wife offers subjection to her husband, he is charged with a most sacred obligation. Abusing such authority will bring judgment upon him, and danger to she who should be most valuable to him. This is why authority is never to be exercised wantonly.
Let us pray that we may always have the faith of the centurion in accepting God’s will.