Blood, Water, Obedience

Apr 6, 2012

“Blood is thicker than water,” my mother used to say. The translation of her warning was: “Don’t say anything negative to your friends or to your spouse about relatives because ties to family are stronger than their ties to you–a friend, an acquaintance or even a wife.”  My friends or my husband are allowed to comment on their own family members, but I am not. I know how this works from being a parent. I can say that my children are screwing up or out of control, but if you make that observation out loud, look out! My parental hackles will spring up and my protective pinions will come to the defense of my younguns.

At the RE Congress in LA two weeks ago, I had several dinners with some Benedictine monk friends. I told them of my childhood fantasy of becoming a monk—not a nun, but a monk. “The deal-breaker vow for me would be Obedience, ” I said. “What’s your definition of obedience?” one of the brothers asked. The first words out of my mouth were, “following the rules and commands of some random authority figure.”—clearly, the obstinate response of someone not quite graduated from her adolescent rebellion. My questioner, who had just written a pamphlet for Abbey Press on obedience, quoted from it. “We discover that the fullest expression of our life in community is in a spirit of mutual obedience and service….To be obedient means not only listening to a specific request or instruction, but to be genuinely attentive to both the spoken and unspoken needs of those around us–simply out of love.”1

After that conversation, obedience has been my mind-niggling mantra for the past two weeks. It flashes its nine letters in magazine articles and the scriptures. It’s a frightening word and a desirable word because it’s about intense and intimate relationship. At our best, my husband and I are in obedience to each other. We listen to the needs of the other, receive that information into our hearts, and try to respond. Mutual obedience implies a two-way connection and concern.

Obedience to God might not feel like a two-way deal, but as a willing partner in the relationship I trust God to listen to the desires of my heart. In turn I try to listen and obey. In Thursday’s Daily Meditation via email from Fr. Richard Rohr, he talks about the foot washing at the Last Supper and calls Jesus a “servant lover.” What a phrase! In his gospel, Matthew describes God as I imagine a “servant lover.”
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.  (Matthew 7:9-11)

So back to the “Blood is thicker than water” paragraph. Is there anything more binding than blood? In Mark’s gospel the disciples tell Jesus that his mother and brothers are there to see him. Jesus’s jarring response in The Message version is:
Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)

Obedience is thicker than blood.” That sentence alone will give me at least another two weeks worth of obsession with obedience.

I thought about waiting to post this until after Easter. But today is Good Friday, the day of Jesus’s ultimate act of obedience:
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.
(Philippians 2:7-8 NRSV)

1 Living as a Saint: A Guide to Community and Communion by Br.Silas Henderson, O.S.B., Abbey Press.