The Latin expression means “he was subject to them,” or “he was obedient to them.” This is lifted from the gospel of St. Luke (2, 51) in that episode where the child Jesus was lost and then found in the temple.
In the concluding part of that episode, Mary, the mother, asked the child, “Why did you do this to us?” To which the child Jesus replied, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And yet in spite of that reply, Mary took no offense and the child went back home and was “subject to them,” referring to Christ subjecting himself to Mary and Joseph.
These passages of the gospel somehow show us how we can integrate our dual duty of obeying first the will of God and that of obeying our earthly authorities and subjecting ourselves to the many temporal and human conditionings in our life.
While Christ did nothing other than to do the will of his Father in heaven (cfr. Jn 5, 30; Jn 6, 38), he also willed that he subjected himself to human authorities and to the different conditionings of any person at any given time and place. Thus, he also paid his taxes (cfr. Mt 17, 24-27), attended the synagogue (cfr. Lk 4, 16), worked as a carpenter (cfr. Mk 6, 3), etc.
In theory, Christ, being God, should have been exempted from all these, but as man, he has to live like any other man who is always subject to some human authorities and to the conditionings in the world.
And when finally asked what to do when God’s authority and the human authority appear to lash, Christ replied: “Render to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God.” (Mt 22, 21)
The lesson we can derive from this consideration is most helpful especially to those who enter into some commitments — whether to marriage or to a particular vocation and spirituality. A commitment usually restricts or conditions a person to behave in a particular way even if there are other legitimate ways of behaving in a given situation.
Thus, in the way of living the virtue of poverty, for example, a Franciscan has to live it the Franciscan way, even if the Dominican way of living it is also good but different from the Franciscan way. Same with a person who is married as compared to an unmarried one, and also with a lay person as compared to a consecrated one. It is the same virtue but lived and expressed in different ways.
Same with the practice of prayer. The ordinary person in the middle of the world would have a different way of doing it compared to how a contemplative nun would do it.
There should be no comparing actually, and much less, envying. A commitment is not so much a restriction or a conditioning as an expression of a more fervent love and fidelity for God and for everyone else. A commitment would only show how fervent one’s love is that he chooses to confine himself to a particular way when many other ways can also be availed of.
This clarification is relevant these days because many people are falling into some kind of wistful thinking, like “if I were not married,” or “if I did not enter the priesthood,” or “if I did not have this vocation or spirituality, I would have been more free,” etc.
We need to follow Christ in living out our commitments that would involve doing God’s will and our unavoidable subjection to some earthly authorities and conditionings or concrete ways of doing things. Let’s always remember that Christ “erat subditus illis,” he subjected himself to his earthly parents and to the human conditionings even if could be exempted from them./WDJ