“Son though he was he learned obedience from what he suffered.”
What is meant by “obedience” here, and how did Jesus learn from suffering?
Clearly it’s not the reflexive obedience of a horse or dog being trained. It is not the result of force or coercion: not the obedience of a child being spanked by a parent, or a soldier punished by a drill sergeant…although both the Sanhedrin and the Romans might have thought they were ‘teaching him a lesson.’
What is made perfect in Jesus’ death on the cross is his freedom ; he goes to death willingly, embracing the cross/despising its shame… for the sake of the joy that lay before him, that is, the joy of seeing us set free.
John’s gospel underlines the agency of Jesus: when the soldiers come for him, when he is questioned by Pilate, even when he is struck by a guard, he is clearly in charge.
Jesus performs his death as a prophetic sign, he allows himself to be lifted up as the bronze serpent in the desert was, so the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.
Like the prophets who often performed absurd and demeaning actions in obedience to God, all that mattered to him was allowing God to speak through him, to speak even and especially through his brokenness and failure.
The free and deliberate quality of Jesus’ submission to the cross is seen when in the eucharist, the night before, he provides the ritual interpretation of his suffering and death.
“He learned obedience from what he suffered”: not passively, not from what was inflicted, but from what he chose to suffer, what he accepted and took to himself to save us.
“He learned obedience,” that is, he became totally free, he realized his heart’s desire, to give himself away without remainder, by surrender to the way of God, by accepting injustice, pain and rejection…without retaliating: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
This freedom to respond to the world’s violence without reacting in kind, without being controlled by it in any way, shows forth in the world the in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus ‘is made perfect’ in obedience by his willingness to suffer and forgive.
Our verse, “Son though he was he learned obedience from what he suffered,” has a similar shape to the one in Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus…emptied himself…even to death on a cross.”
-Jesus emptied himself of himself; he did not try to grasp at life or status to substantiate his identity…instead he surrendered completely to the Father in going to the cross, letting go of the outcome, trusting that God would somehow make his gift fruitful beyond anything he could imagine.
One of the fathers said, “If a person obeys God, God will obey that person.”
Even through the experience of abandonment, Jesus trusted in the mutuality of obedience, that having given everything, God would vindicate him in his own time and way, and raise him up.
It was to share in this freedom that Christ set us free:
Free to live beyond the fear of death and suffering that veils the world; Free to not reciprocate violence, but to overcome evil with good;
Free also to become the person God made us to be, open to joy in the midst of suffering, peace in the midst of conflict…
We have received a spirit of sonship not slavery, “so let us confidently approach Jesus crucified, the throne of grace, to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.”