Sunday, January 17, 2016

Reflections for the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time, Part 1

Monday – Obedience First

King Saul had royally messed up. Samuel had been very clear when he delivered God's message to Saul. The king was to completely destroy his Amalekite enemies. There was to be nothing left of them at one and no thing alive. 

This sounds harsh to our modern ears, but God knew the risk of allowing His people to live so close to the Amalekites. The Israelites would quickly fall into idolatry, religiously and culturally adhering to their neighbors and abandoning the worship of the true God. Therefore, God ordered destruction, tolerating a lesser evil to avoid a greater one. 

But Saul didn't listen. In his pride, he spared the Amalekite king, Agag, and reserved some of the best oxen and sheep. Doing so, he acted in direct disobedience to God. Why did Saul make this choice? He probably had multiple motives. Perhaps he wanted to humiliate Agag by holding him prisoner. He certainly appreciated the value of the livestock even though he indicated that he intended to sacrifice them to God. Further, Saul was most likely tempted by the boost in status that he, as Israel's king, would receive by increasing his wealth and openly displaying his victory over another monarch.

God, however, was not at all happy with Saul's disobedience. Samuel made that quite clear. Speaking for God, the prophet chastised the king, pointing out that God wanted obedience more than sacrifice. Saul's submission to God's command would have been much more pleasing to God than all the sheep and oxen in the world. 

By this time, Saul was probably hanging his head, but God wasn't finished yet. Samuel had another message from the Lord, and Saul wasn't going to like this one at all. The prophet matter-of-factly informed the king that God had now rejected him as the ruler of Israel. He would be replaced by another. He would have to learn the lesson of “obedience first” the hard way. 

Tuesday – Least Likely to Succeed

David could have been voted least likely to succeed. The youngest in his family, David was no more than a shepherd boy, not even important enough to be on hand to greet the prophet Samuel, who had come to visit his family. 

Samuel, in fact, knew nothing about Jesse's youngest son until he had heard God reject all seven of David's brothers. The prophet, who was probably starting to wonder what was going on, asked Jesse if he had any more sons left. In a rather off-hand way, Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

Imagine the reaction of Jesse and his other seven sons when David arrived and Samuel anointed him. Did they feel a mixture of shock and annoyance as they saw this kid specially consecrated by God's prophet? They had to realize that David had great things ahead of him, but it may have taken them quite a while to grasp that this one, the least likely to succeed, would one day be the king of all of Israel.

Wednesday – Priorities

“Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” With this question, Jesus is inviting the Pharisees to consider their priorities. Which is more important, He asks, to follow a rule to the letter or to perform an act of love that would forever change a person's life for the better? Which action truly expresses the spirit of God's law?

The answer should be clear. Jesus illustrates it distinctly when He heals the man with the withered hand on the sabbath. Love is more important than a merely human interpretation of the law. 

The Pharisees, however, don't get the message. They refuse to even answer Jesus' question. Their hearts are hard and cold, and Jesus actually looks at them with anger and grief. They refuse to love. They refuse to have compassion for a poor man. They refuse to share in his joy when he is healed. They refuse to change their minds. In fact, after Jesus restores the man's hand, the Pharisee actually go out and collaborate with the Herodians (another Jewish faction that would normally be at odds with the Pharisees) about how to put Jesus to death. 

As we listen to this Gospel, we should ask ourselves some difficult questions. What are our priorities? Are we more about rules or about love? Are we so caught up in our preconceived notions that we can't let go of them even after witnessing God's work in our lives and the lives of others? How will we respond to Jesus' message of love?

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