Samuel said to Saul:
“Stop! Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night.”
Saul replied, “Speak!”
Samuel then said: “Though little in your own esteem,
are you not leader of the tribes of Israel?
The LORD anointed you king of Israel and sent you on a mission, saying,
‘Go and put the sinful Amalekites under a ban of destruction.
Fight against them until you have exterminated them.’
Why then have you disobeyed the LORD?
You have pounced on the spoil, thus displeasing the LORD.”
Saul answered Samuel: “I did indeed obey the LORD
and fulfill the mission on which the LORD sent me.
I have brought back Agag, and I have destroyed Amalek under the ban.
But from the spoil the men took sheep and oxen,
the best of what had been banned,
to sacrifice to the LORD their God in Gilgal.”
But Samuel said:
“Does the LORD so delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as in obedience to the command of the LORD?
Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission than the fat of rams.
For a sin like divination is rebellion,
and presumption is the crime of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the command of the LORD,
he, too, has rejected you as ruler.”
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were accustomed to fast.
People came to Jesus and objected,
“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast,
but your disciples do not fast?”
Jesus answered them,
“Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?
As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.
But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast on that day.
No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak.
If he does, its fullness pulls away,
the new from the old, and the tear gets worse.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins.
Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins,
and both the wine and the skins are ruined.
Rather, new wine is poured into fresh wineskins.”
I. THEME: Human beings must obey God.
Conflicts between thoughts and ideologies happen at all places and times, in politic, religion, education and daily manner. For examples, the conflict between older and younger generation about how to live their faith or to educate their children; the conflict about social behaviors between Easterners and Westerners; or the way how the president of the United States should run the country between Democrates and Republicans. Jesus and his disciples must face the conflict with the Pharisees and scribes when he revealed many new things from his Father.
Today readings rotate around the conflict between God and man, and between old and new things. In every cases, people must obey God because His wisdom is far more excellent than human wisdom. In the first reading, the prophet Samuel was sent to dethrone Saul because he disobeyed God by not annihilated the whole of Amalekites’ armies. In the Gospel, Jesus used the question of the older generation to help them to recognize the new age has come. They need to have a new mind to welcome Jesus’ new teachings.
1/ Reading I: To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.
1.1/ Saul disobeyed God: Samuel was sent by God to give His command to king Saul that he must be on the way to fight with the Amalekites’ king and his armies. The reason is that they treated the Israelites bad and prevented them from their way to the Promise Land. We need to be reminded that whatever God promised, He shall fulfill. God’s words to Saul was very concise: “Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass” (1 Sam 15:3).
After fighting and winning, Saul didn’t completely obey God’s command when he did two things: First, he didn’t kill Agag, the Amalekites’ king. Secondly, he let his soldiers keep fat sheep and oxen. His works couldn’t be hidden from God; He sent Samuel to Saul to question his disobedience: “Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”
King Saul tried to defend himself by saying, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” Saul’s problem is like our problem, he only partly fulfilled God’s commands, not wholly; and he thought it was accepted by God to do so.
1.2/ To God, obedience is better than all offerings: Samuel corrected Saul: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” This is the important command which the authors of Scripture repeatedly advised God’s people (cf. Psa 40:6, 51:16; Isa 1:10-17; Mic 6:5-8; Amo 5:21-24; Hos 6:6). Disobedience is classified with heavy sins, such as divination and idolatry. The result of Saul disobedience is heavy, he was dethroned by God in favor of David.
To obey the leader’s command is very important to maintain the communal safety and order. If a leader doesn’t follow his leader’s command, he can’t be an exemplar for his soldiers and control them. Moreover, the lower leader can’t fathom all possible dangers shall happen; therefore, he must obey his higher leader. If this order is true to armies, it is more critical for the relationship between God and His people.
2/ Gospel: Jesus protected his disciples.
2.1/ Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast? According to St. Mark: “Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?””
The connecting time between the Old and the New Testament is the time during which the Jews increased their fasting and ascetic exercises, not only in some sects but also in people’s daily life. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving are three main poles of one’s religious life (Tob 12:8).
The author of the Book of Judith considered fasting is the way to ask for God’s blessing (Jdt 4:9). John Baptist’s fasting and ascetic way in the desert is the ideal and simple way to show his completely dependence on God.
2.2/ Jesus’ answer: He emphasized on two main points:
(1) The reason of fasting: Fasting must have a goal. Jesus gave a reason why his disciple didn’t fast yet: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast.” Jesus identified himself as the bridegroom and the wedding guests, the bridegroom’s friends, as his disciples.
(2) The time of fasting: Fasting must have a certain time, not all times. Jesus gave a hint when his disciples shall fast: “The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”
2.3/ People must have a new mind to welcome Jesus’ new teachings: Jesus is the time mark for people to differentiate between old and new things. The Pharisees and John Baptist’s disciples represented the old generation while Jesus’ disciples represented the new generation. In order to be able to understand Christ’s new teachings, one needs a new mind which is wise enough to recognize the imperfectness of old teachings and the perfectness of new teachings. If one doesn’t have a new mind, he will stubbornly keep old teachings and reject Christ’s new teachings. To help his audience to realize the importance of a new mind, Jesus used two examples which were very familiar with his audience.
(1) New patch and old garment: “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; if he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.”
(2) New wine and wineskins: “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but new wine is for fresh skins!”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– To absolutely obey God’s and Christ’s teachings is the most important thing in our life. We should never stubbornly disobey their commands.
– We should not welcome all new and discard all old things; but use our reason to recognize what bad things must be eliminated from the old; what good things must be welcome from the new; and how to adapt to make our life better.