THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST 
BY FR. RANIERO CANTALAMESSA, OFMCAP.
It is relatively easy to discover the nature and origin of Christian obedience: it is sufficient to understand which concept of obedience is used in Scripture to define Jesus as ‘the obedient’. It is thus immediately obvious that the true basis of Christian obedience is not an idea of obedience, but an act of obedience; it is not a principle (‘the inferior must be subject to the superior’), but an event; it is not founded upon a ‘constitutional natural order’, but in itself constitutes a new order; it is not found in reason (recta ratio), but in the kerygma. It is based on the fact that ‘Christ became obedient even unto death’ (Phil 2:8); that Christ ‘learnt to obey through suffering and having been made perfect He became for all who obey Him the source of eternal salvation’ (cf. Heb 5:8-9). The luminous focus, which sheds light on the whole discourse on obedience in the Letter to the Romans, is Rom 5:19: ‘By one man’s obedience are many to be made upright’. The obedience of Christ is the immediate and the historical source of justification; both are closely connected. Anyone who recognises the importance of justification in the Letter to the Romans can understand the importance of obedience in this text. In the New Testament, the obedience of Christ is not only the most sublime example of obedience, but it is its very foundation. It is the ‘constitution’ of theKingdom ofGod!
Let us try to understand the nature of that ‘act’ of obedience on which the new order is built; let us try, in other words, to understand what the obedience of Christ consisted in. Jesus, as a child, obeyed His parents. Then, as an adult, He submitted Himself to the Mosaic Law, to the Sanhedrin, to Pilate … But St. Paul is not thinking of any of these obediences; he is thinking instead of Christ’s obedience to the Father. The obedience of Christ is, in fact, considered to be the exact antitheses of the disobedience of Adam: ‘As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience are many to be made upright’ (Rom 5:19; cf. 1Cor 15:22). Also in the hymn of the Letter to the Philippians the obedience of Christ ‘even to death and death on a cross’ is tacitly contraposed to the disobedience of Adam who wants to be ‘equal with God’ (cf. Phil 2:6ff). But who was it that Adam disobeyed? Certainly not his parents, a government, laws … He disobeyed God. Disobedience to God is at the root of every disobedience and obedience to God is at the root of every obedience. St.Francis says that the disobedience of Adam consisted in appropriating his own will to himself: ‘He who appropriates to himself his own will eats from the tree of good and evil’ (Admonitions II). By contrast we can understand what the obedience of the new Adam consisted in. He gave up His own will, He emptied Himself (ekenosen): ‘Not My will but Thine be done’, He exclaimed to the Father (cf. Lk 22:42); and again: ‘I have come not to do My own will, but to do the will of the One who sent Me’ (Jn 6:38).
St.Irenaeus interprets Christ’s obedience in the light of the Songs of the Servant as an interior, absolute submission to God, carried out in an extremely difficult situation. ‘That sin’, he writes, ‘which came about on wood was abolished by the obedience of wood because in obeying God, the Son of man was nailed to wood, thus destroying the science of evil and introducing the science of good into the world. Evil is disobedience to God, just as obedience to God is the good. Thus says the Word, through the prophet Isaiah: “I have not resisted and I have not turned away. I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting” (Is 50:5-6). Therefore, by virtue of that obedience unto death hanging from a cross, He dissolved the ancient disobedience which came about on wood (Epid. 34). The antithesis ‘disobedience-obedience’ is, as we can see, so radical and universal for St. Irenaeus as to be equivalent to the opposition between good and evil: Evil, he says, is disobeying God and obeying God is the good.
Obedience encompasses the whole life of Jesus. IfSt. Pauland the Letter to the Hebrews give importance to the place of obedience in the death of Jesus (cf. Phil 2:8; Heb 5:8),St. Johnand the synoptics complete the picture by giving importance to the place obedience played daily in the life of Jesus. ‘My food’, says Jesus in John’s Gospel, ‘is to do the will of the Father’; and again: ‘I always do what pleases Him’ (Jn 4:34; 8:29).
(To be continued)
Source: Raniero Cantalamessa, OBEDIENCE – The authority of the Word, Middlegreen, England: St. Paul Publications, 1989. Original Title: L’Obbedienza, translated from the Italian by Frances Lonergan Villa. Copied by A Christian Pilgrim.