Daily Meditations on the Rule of Saint Benedict: Chapter 5

To be read: January 24, May 24, September 24

The first degree of humility is obedience without delay.  2This comes to those who hold nothing dearer than Christ.  3Because of the holy service which they have promised, or of the fear of hell, or the glory of life everlasting, 4as soon as the Superior has commanded anything they permit no delay in the execution of that work, as if the matter had been commanded by God Himself.  5The Lord says of these men: “At the hearing of the ear he has obeyed Me” (Ps 17[18]:45)6And again He says to the teachers: “He who hears you hears Me”(Lk 10:16)7Such people, therefore, instantly quit their own work and abandon their own will, 8and lay down whatever they have in hand, and leaving unfinished what they were doing, follow with the ready step of obedience the voice of authority. 9And in the same moment, both the master’s command and the disciple’s finished work are, in the fear of God, speedily finished together.  10The desire of advancing to eternal life urges them on.  11They, therefore, are eager for the narrow way of which the Lord says: “Narrow is the way which leads to life”(Mt 7:14), 12so that, they no longer live according to their own desires and pleasures but walk according to the judgment and will of another. They choose to live in monasteries, and desire an Abbot to be over them.  13These men truly live up to the maxim of the Lord in which He says: “I came not to do My own will, but the will of Him Who sent Me”(Jn 6:38)14This obedience, however, will be acceptable to God and agreeable to men only if what is commanded is done without hesitation, delay, lukewarmness, grumbling or complaint.  15For the obedience which is rendered to Superiors is rendered to God.  For He Himself said: “He who hears you hears Me”(Lk 10:16)16Further, obedience must be rendered gladly by the disciples, “for the Lord loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). 17If the disciple obeys with an ill will and grumbling, not only with lips but also in his heart, 18even though he fulfills the command, yet it will not be acceptable to God, who regards the heart of the grumbler.  19And he will have no reward for such an action; rather he will incur the penalty for grumblers, unless he makes satisfactory amendment. 

St. Benedict declares in this chapter that obedience is always immediate (5:4,7), complete (5:9), and joyful (5:16).  Anything less than this is at best compliance, at worst rebellion.  But the question that resonates for us today is, ‘what does this chapter say to the non-cenobitic follower of the Rule?’  We do not, as it says in verse 13, “choose to live in monasteries, and desire an Abbot to be over [us].”  Who, then, is the authority over us, and to whom do we owe obedience?

There are various forms of authority in the world, and we need to be obedient to them all.  Let us, then, look at some of the types of authority with whom we interact in our daily lives.  The first, is direct authority: the Word of God.  We must obey the Biblical Word of God.  This is non-negotiable.  The Word of God is authoritative and unchangeable.  We must also be aware that God continues to speak to His Church prophetically.  We need to test the prophetic word, and if it is in line with Holy Scripture, and is affirmed by the elders, we need to be obedient to that word.  When God speaks through Scripture and prophetically, we must respond immediately, completely, and joyfully.  

Secondly, there is delegated authority.  Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been committed to Me” (Matt. 28:18).  But He also delegated authority to His disciples.  He said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).  And as Benedict points out (twice) in the chapter above, Jesus said, “He who listens to you listens to Me” (Luke 10:16 NIV).  The apostles, then, in each successive generation, over the centuries, have delegated that authority to the elders in the Church, and that authority has been passed down through the Church to today.  We are called, therefore, to be obedient, immediately, completely, and joyfully, to the current apostolic authority in the Church.

There is also delegated authority in the secular realm.  Jesus told us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17).  And St. Paul says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom. 13:1).  The same commands to be immediate, complete, and joyful in our obedience to the authority in the Church apply here.  For when the commands of secular authorities are not in violation of the Word of God, then we are duty-bound to be obedient to them.

And finally, there is familial authority.  The fifth commandment says that we are to honor our father and mother.  And St. Paul reiterates this command in Ephesians 6:1.  When we are living in our parents’ home, we are to be obedient to them.  And in Ephesians 5:21f, Paul lays out some general “haustafel” or household-codes.  He begins these codes with “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  We need to recognize that God continues to speak to His Church, and He does so through the members of the Body.  We need to listen to one another and be willing to accept that what we are hearing from a brother or sister may actually be the Word of God.  If what we have heard from others in the Church is in line with God’s Word and is affirmed by the elders of the Church, we need to respond immediately, completely, and joyfully, “out of reverence for Christ.”

Obedience is freeing.  When we recognize that the ones in authority over us have been placed there by God, and that they answer to Him, we can accept that they are duty-bound to fulfill God’s will.  And if we obey and they have misspoken, then the responsibility for the mistake lies solely with them.  Obedience that is immediate, complete, and joyful honors God and builds up the Body.

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