We often speak of Christianity being counter-cultural, but today's reading strike at the very heart of our American culture, freedom and democracy. The central problem is the childish way in which we tend to define freedom as doing whatever we please. Throughout the gospel even Jesus demonstrates the opposite.
I do just as the Father has commanded me.
Jesus is obedient unto death.
In theory we like this. We like the idea of doing God's will. The game we can play is sitting by ourselves and telling ourselves that God's will is what I say it is. I do what I say God is calling me to do. Obedience is not obedience if the person you are listening to is yourself.
In contrast we have the model of the early church in the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles, including Paul go out, they meet with groups of disciples, strenghtening them is times of persecution, and appointing for them "presbyters." The people of the local church do not choose their own leaders. Leadership in the Church is not a popularity contest. From its inception the Church had a hierarchical structure.
A part of imitating Christ is a willingness to be obedient to others. Twenty-six years ago this month I knelt in the Cathedral and promises respect and obedience to the bishop and his successors. Do I believe that every decision of the Bishop or even the Pope is magically correct? No. But that is not the point.
Obedience goes hand in hand with another virtue, humility. I am humble enough to admit that when it comes to matters of faith the bishops and the Pope know more than me. Two thousand years of theology is a better measure of the proper interpretion of the Bible than me.
If we are going to imitate Christ, we can't simply cherry pick the virtues of Jesus that we like. Today's readings invite each of us to ask how we model obedience in our own lives.