Daily Reflection
January 21st, 2008

Tom Bannantine, S.J.

School of Nursing
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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.

Samuel here speaks the words that have been quoted many times since and are worthy of our attention today. He says: "Obedience is better than sacrifice." We know that ritual sacrifice was used by the people of Israel to worship God. Sacrifice was a good thing, and it was pleasing to God. But Samuel makes it clear that if there is a question between sacrifice and obedience, obedience is better and more pleasing to God than sacrifice. The better thing is to obey God rather than to disobey in order to offer sacrifice.

As I read and meditate on this scripture reading I think about how these words apply to me today. As a Jesuit who has taken a vow of obedience, I should always hold obedience in the highest regard. I ask myself whether I value obedience as I should. Are there times when I fail to obey completely? Am I tempted to be like Saul and try to justify my failure to obey completely? Do I sometimes prize the worship of God above obedience to what God asks of me? Not all of us have taken a vow of obedience, but we are all called to obey the commands of God. Today's reading helps me to better understand this and to realize how easy it is to be like Saul was in today's reading.

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