"And bowing his head, he gave up the spirit." St. John, 19:30.
In one of his radio programs some years ago Robert Ripley of "Believe It Or Not" fame told the following story of a blind man named Richard Brooks. Brooks was sitting on the porch of his home which overlooks the Monongahela River in Pennsylvania, talking to a visitor. Several boys were playing on the river bank and making a great deal of noise. Suddenly Brooks and his friend heard piercing cries. They paid no attention. The cries continued and increased, but they still paid no attention, until two boys came running up the walk. Breathlessly they told that one of the lads had gone out too far in the river, was caught in the current, and was carried down stream.
"Help us get him out," they cried.
But what could be done? Brooks was blind and his friend could not swim. The blind man jumped to his feet and shouted: "I can swim. I'll try to save him. Tell me where to go."
They rushed to the riverside and Brooks plunged in with all his clothes on. With strong strokes he swam out into the stream as those on shore shouted "to the right," "to the left," "a little farther." Just as the blind man was ready to reach out for the boy the latter went down. "Dive," shouted his friends, and down went the blind man, coming up with the boy in his strong grip. The swim to shore was a taxing one but, following the encouraging cries of those who waited, Brooks brought the boy to land.
On Good Friday, we honor One who plunged into the pains of the passion to save each one of us. We will gather to remember what our Redeemer went through to bring each one of us to the eternal shore.
It fits in our consideration of the Fourth Commandment to study this week the obedience of Jesus Christ, who was obedient even unto death. There is some similarity between Christ in His obedience and Richard Brooks swimming after a drowning boy. The blind man could not see just where he was going. but he heard and heeded the directions of those on shore. The obedience of Christ to His heavenly Father was something like that. The Almighty Father wanted men saved. He directed His Son to make the satisfaction necessary. And Christ made good for our sins in the most painful way possible, by His bitter passion and torturing death on that cross.
Here we see the height and depth of obedience; here we see obedience at its best; here we see obedience personified; here we see an obedience that inspires everyone of us to keep God's Fourth Law more exactly.
In obedience, as in everything else, Christ is our perfect Model. Obedience brought Him into the world; obedience led Him through childhood and youth; obedience led Him through the hardships and heartaches of His public life; obedience led Him to give His time and energy to everyone He met; obedience led Him to choose the will of His Father in preference to His own; obedience led Him to submit Himself to the sufferings of that first Good Friday. He died - in obedience.
But the supreme act of obedience which we witness on Good Friday on that cross was not the result of a sudden decision. Christ learned to obey by obeying:
1. During the first thirty years of His life He was subject to Mary and Joseph, though He knew infinitely more than they did. Obedience to parents, teachers, superiors and elders is hard, especially for young people. They hate to be bossed around. They want their own way. When youth remembers the Divine Youth, obedience becomes easier and much more intelligent.
2. Christ's public life was planned according to the will of His Father. In prayer and retreat Jesus kept in contact with what His Father wanted. Men and women in all walks of life chafe and complain under office rules, parish regulations, traffic laws, city ordinances, and Church laws.
In all this Jesus gave us the perfect example. He was submissive to all lawful authority. He obeyed the commands and precepts of the prophets. He conformed to the ritual and ceremony of the Jewish religion. He paid taxes and demanded that His followers pay taxes. He respected the government and its officials, even though they were not always worthy of respect. Jesus was a perfect example of what we call today a law-abiding citizen.
3. The human nature and the human will of Christ recoiled from the tortures of the passion. Nevertheless, he made His choice: "Not my will, that is, not my human will, but Thine, Thy divine will, let that be done." He wanted the divine will carried out at all costs, even at the bitter price of being tied and dragged with ropes, of being struck on the cheek, of being made a mockery by Herod, of being scourged at the pillar, of being crowned with thorns, of carrying a cruel cross, and of being nailed to it. All this was done in obedience.
4. The supreme sacrifice of giving His life for all men was the supreme act of obedience. As we kneel before our crucified Savior who can refuse to obey?
Look at crucifix, all you who are fathers and mothers. The law of God with regard to your parental obligations is clear. With the example of Jesus before you, determine to fulfill those duties.
Look at that crucifix, all you who are sons and daughters. There is Jesus who was obedient all through His life. Why don't you try to be obedient like Him?
Look at that crucifix, all politicians and citizens. Jesus performed His duties to the state. Your duties are clear. Perform those duties by the strength of His example and His help.
Our highest thought and our deepest thought this Good Friday will be the remembrance of the complete and absolute obedience of our Lord. Our determination will be to obey as He obeyed.
He bows His head as He dies on Good Friday. Bow your head and die to sinful self-will. Lord Jesus, I promise to obey.
Adapted from Talks on the Commandments
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (© 1948)