Obedience Is Better Than Sacrifice

Monday of Week 2 in Ordinary Time - Cycle II

1 Sam. 15:16-23 & Mk. 2:18-22

God commanded King Saul to wage a holy war against the Amalekites. Not one of their possessions was to be spared. But Saul made the mistake of putting his judgement above that of God. With good intentions, but in disobedience, he did not destroy the best of the sheep and oxen. He allowed the people to use them to sacrifice to God.

God's reaction through Samuel, His prophet, was swift and sure. He rejected Saul as king and declared that "obedience is better than sacrifice." Absolute dedication to God's will must be preferred to any merely external act of religion.

It was a fair question to ask Jesus, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast and Your disciples do not fast?” Jesus compared Himself to a bridegroom and His disciples as guests at His wedding. It is unheard of for guests to fast at a wedding. But the time will come when He, the bridegroom, will no longer be here with them, and then they will be expected to fast.

Jesus is certainly not decrying fasting. He Himself sanctified this form of penance by fasting for forty days in the desert. He knows better than anyone that fasting is good because it helps discipline our will. If we can say “No” to good things in life, it is going to make it easier for us to say “No” to sin. But once again Jesus was making the point that His radically new teaching cannot be squeezed into the mould of old legalism.

This mistrust of the new exists today. It is part of our nature to be wary of change. Not everything new that we are promised is for the best! We question the introduction of new working systems, new technology and the spread of computerization. Many of the faithful are unhappy at the changes that have taken place in the Church in discipline, the liturgy and doing away with some long-held traditions.

So Jesus gives us two homely illustrations which have a bearing on the question of fasting and the need to change when it is good and necessary.

Jesus talks about the impracticalities of patching old garments with new cloth because in the first wash it will shrink and tear the old cloth.

The second illustration concerns wine. Jesus says you never put old wine into new skins precisely because the old wine will burst the new skins. Here is Jesus giving support to the old customs when He introduces the element of wine for so often the old wine is better than the new.

In other words Jesus is saying we must be prepared to get rid of old customs and make way for new ideas when these are appropriate. We have to be continually ready to renew ourselves. This means that we have to be astute, to know when changes are needed, when to keep the old - and not mix them with the new.

Lord Jesus, give us the wisdom to know what will be for the best, when it is right to ring out the changes and to recognise what we need to keep and cherish.