20 January, Monday – The chances we have missed, the graces we resist

20 January

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1 Samuel 15:16-23

Samuel said to Saul, ‘Stop! Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.’ Saul said, ‘Tell me.’ Samuel continued, ‘Small as you may be in your own eyes, are you not head of the tribes of Israel? the Lord has anointed you king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission and said to you, “Go, put these sinners, the Amalekites, under the ban and make war on them until they are exterminated.” Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you fall on the booty and do what is displeasing to the Lord?’ Saul replied to Samuel, ‘But I did obey the voice of the Lord. I went on the mission which the Lord gave me; I brought back Agag king of the Amalekites; I put the Amalekites under the ban. From the booty the people took the best sheep and oxen of what was under the ban to sacrifice them to the Lord your God in Gilgal.’ But Samuel replied:

‘Is the pleasure of the Lord in holocausts and sacrifices or in obedience to the voice of the Lord?

Yes, obedience is better than sacrifice, submissiveness better than the fat of rams.

Rebellion is a sin of sorcery, presumption a crime of teraphim.

‘Since you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.’

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Mark 2:18-22

One day when John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting, some people came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Why is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not?’ Jesus replied, ‘Surely the bridegroom’s attendants would never think of fasting while the bridegroom is still with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they could not think of fasting. But the time will come for the bridegroom to be taken away from them, and then, on that day, they will fast. No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak; if he does, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and the tear gets worse. And nobody puts new wine into old wineskins; if he does, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost and the skins too. No! New wine, fresh skins!’

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Obedience is better than sacrifice

A story by Fr Anthony de Mello goes something like this:

Two monks from an austere Catholic order were walking along a dirt road in the forest one day when they came across a river. Although the river was not very wide and was only about waist deep, it had a very strong current. Along the side of the river, they noticed a young lady crying and in great distress because she was unable to cross the river. She was in a desperate hurry to get back to her dying father at home. The lady was extremely beautiful.

The monks, being from a strict order, were forbidden to have undue contact with females. However, suddenly one of the monks, walked towards the lady and asked if she would allow him to carry her across the river. The lady was delighted, relieved and extremely grateful for the offer. In due course, the first monk managed to get the lady safely across the river and she could carry on her journey. The two monks then continued with their own journey.

Throughout the remainder of the journey, of which there was still quite a long ways to go, the second monk kept going on and on about how the first monk did not show more restraint and to refrain from carrying the lady and how he could not believe that the first monk actually carried a beautiful lady in his arms across the river. This went on for another 6 hours. When the monks eventually reached their monastery, the first monk turned and said to the second monk, “My dear brother monk, as soon as I put the lady down at the opposite bank of the river, I had forgotten all about her. But it seems that you have continued to carry her for the last 6 hours, and she had never left your mind, nor your heart.”.

Letting go — this is one of the hardest things for a human being to try to do. We’ve all been there, done that. Most of us are still stuck in that state. Yet it is precisely due to this inability for us to let go, that we often find we are unable to move forward in our lives and in our faith. We cannot and often, simply refuse to let go of our pain, our fears, our addictions, our sins, our insecurities, our pride, our possessions, our other ‘gods’ that rule our lives. Leaving very little space, if any at all, for our true God to come into our lives and our spirits. Like the second monk, in our hearts, our minds and our spirits, we cling on to our pre-conceived notions of what is important, what is pious, what is righteous. We have replaced norms, rules, expectations and bondages for the freedom, the liberation, the deliverance, the providence, the consolation and the restoration that God wants to give to us. We prefer our insecurities and addictions – because we are familiar with them, rather than the discomfort and insecurity when God leads us along unfamiliar paths which eventually lead us back to the only thing that ought to truly matter – back into His arms. Back into the complete union and true joy that can only be attained when the heart is at peace, and free from anxiety — when his soul is able to grasp the truth of the infinite love of God for him, and he abandons himself to His will, with the confidence of a child in his loving Father who looks after his own with the utmost care. Being thus set free from the worries and concerns of what the future may bring, we finally become able to fully experience the joy of returning God’s love.

New skins for new wine is an imagery for the things that are important and which need to start anew – the essence of faith from rules to obey God, to a relationship of love with God; from a spirit of timidity, fear and oppression to one of freedom, progression and assuredness of God’s love for us; from the idolatry of created things to true worship of the living God; from our false sense of security that our whitewashed façade of piety and regulations will earn us our personal righteousness, to true security in total surrender to the mercy and grace of God which is only given, and never earned.

I have a pet poodle at home named Caramel. Caramel loves playing with rubber balls a lot. He goes nuts chasing a tossed ball. And incessantly, he keeps coming back, ball in mouth, long after I stopped counting how many times I keep tossing it. Then one day, I decided to do this – I threw three balls at him, all at the same time. That literally stumped him. And he no longer came running back to me. Instead, he was busy trying to fit all three balls into his mouth. He did not manage to do so. Because he hasn’t quite figured out that he can only take another ball when he lets go of the one already in his mouth. Guess what – neither have we.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)

Prayer: Father help us. We are so disconnected from who we really are inside. We have alienated ourselves from you by so often choosing to cling on to the past, to our sins, to our delusions and to our stubborn ways. We have lost you because we have chosen obedience to rules and laws over a loving, life-giving relationship with you.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for helping us come into the light of your truth. The truth of your unchanging, unfailing and uncompromising love for us. A love which can never be earned or bought but by the blood of your Son.

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