Monday of the 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
1 Samuel 15:16-23; Psalm 50; Mark 2:18-22
Suppose a rich person wins the lottery and wants to spend the money as he or she has more than sufficient. Should this person give it quietly to sick relatives who need it and who have no means to repay this money or should this person donate it with great fanfare to a charity organisation for its use? Both are good choices but one has to look at the intentions that lie behind these choices to decide which is indeed better.
The readings for today point us in the direction of our intentions and our interior motivations. Do we follow religious traditions – because we want to (interior) or because we have to (exterior) and worse, are our observances purely for show or because of our vanity? That’s what happened to Saul, the king of Israel. He disobeyed a direct instruction from God to completely annihilate (no comment about this seemingly violent act for the moment) the Amalekites, a group that had been harassing the Israelites for a long time. This seemed wasteful to Saul so he decided to keep the best of the livestock and sacrificed a large number of them to God. Waste not, want not he might have thought. But this was not what God wanted.
By disobeying God, Saul lost favour and was rejected as the king. Samuel told Saul that God wants obedience, not sacrifice. Going a little deeper into this, we see that there might also have been an ulterior motive in the sacrifice. The sacrifice would have been quite spectacular and impressive, leading to greater adulation of the king by his people. An exterior show of faith that betrayed a lack of interior will to follow God. Saul rejected God through his disobedience, and sought to manipulate God with the sacrifice and in the end, God rejected him as king and ceased to bless his reign. Seems harsh but it contains a useful lesson. We may want to do good but what’s the interior motivation behind all the actions? Are our good actions tainted by pride and vainglory? Are our sacrifices mainly for show and not because we truly are obedient and loving?
Jesus said the same thing in the Gospel. He commented on the ‘traditional ways’ of the Pharisees who saw loyalty and obedience manifested mainly through exterior practices like fasting. It was easy to show how ‘holy’ one is by performing such acts. Jesus spoke about an interior way that is rooted in relationships based on the love of God and neighbour. He spoke of how such relationships seek the well-being of others as the priority, not pride or vanity. It’s thus not about the show but the ability to right wrongs and to follow the internal law in our hearts. A person who is able to act from within and not just for show would not have the problem of bursting wineskins or tearing cloaks because the actions would match the intentions.
And it’s this convergence of the interior and exterior that allows us to discern which good thing to do when presented with choices of good things. If we follow the interior law of love that is consonant with the exterior actions that we show, we would be able to remove any trace of hypocrisy in our actions and act because we honestly seek the well-being of others and the glory of God. After all, we know that God does not want us just to do things for show, no matter how good the results are.
How can this happen and how would we know? A good indicator of our ability to merge the interior and exterior motives for doing good things is make sure we love others instead of focusing on ourselves. Acts that are individualistic tend to focus purely on the self, building up regard or pride over other things. The media often exhorts us to build up ourselves at the expense of others. That runs counter to what the Lord tells us to do. Instead we should look outwards to others – if our actions lead us to love others more and to increase their well-being, then we’re on the right track. Isn’t that the idea behind spreading God’s mercy? In this year of mercy, shouldn’t we seek to spread the love of God to all we meet, allowing them to encounter God’s mercy through us. After all, God wants us to do things out of love because that is how we are to live.