The scripture readings for January 21st, especially the First Reading and the Responsorial Psalm, focus our attention on two different concepts expressed by the words obedience and sacrifice. Obedience is a familiar term for us all. From our earliest days we become familiar with obedience. We learn that we must obey our parents, our teachers, and all those who have legitimate authority over us. Throughout our lives we obey because we know that laws are necessary for the common good. If everyone was free to as he pleased, there would be chaos. Sacrifice is a less familiar term for us. The idea of ritual sacrifice as practiced in the Old Testament is something we read about in the bible, but it is not practiced widely today.
The scene between Samuel and Saul in the first scripture reading
is an interesting one. Saul was the first king of Israel. He became
king by the will of God after the people of Israel begged God for
a king. Samuel was God's messenger who brought messages from God
to Saul. On this occasion Samuel comes to tell Saul that he has
disobeyed God's command and that God is displeased with him. The
question is just what Saul has done to incur God's displeasure.
It takes a careful reading of this story to find Saul's disobedience.
He was commanded to destroy the sinful Amalekites who had incurred
the wrath of God. Saul and his army did that, and brought back the
Amalekite king, Agag, as a captive. But Saul did not did not destroy
all the spoils of the war with the Amalekites as God had commanded.
Saul tries to justify himself by saying that the sheep and oxen
were kept to be used as sacrifices to God. Samuel however, makes
it clear that Saul has disobeyed God and will be punished by being
deprived of a successor as king.
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