Obedience Better Than Sacrifice


‘Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice.’ This Bible verse is one  that is  used frequently these days. When  Saul the king  preferred sacrifice over  obedience, Prophet Samuel corrected him by saying that  it is  the other way round. “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,  as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Samuel 15:22).

So it is clear.  Obedience is superior to   sacrifice.  An act becomes sin when it  contains an element of disobedience  to  the commandments of God. As for Saul, God’s instructions were clear; that he should destroy all the  Amalekites and all their belongings. But Saul  had better ideas. Why should they be destroyed? After all, no one is going to benefit from it. Instead why can’t they be kept  alive so that later they can be  offered as  sacrifice to  the God who gave them an easy victory over  Amalekites? Samuels’ clarification was in this background.

The irony is that  today this verse is  widely misquoted, misused  and misinterpreted. So it has become necessary to know what  obedience means. Wherever obedience is mentioned in the Bible it is in relation to  obedience to the commandments of God or obedience   to others for the sake of God. 

Naturally a question arises here.  Are we duty bound to   obey all orders of the  authorities? The Catholic Church answers this  question in relation to obedience  due to parents.  ‘But if a child is convinced in conscience that it would be morally wrong to obey a particular order, he must not do so’ (CCC   2217).

It means that  obedience is not  blindly doing everything the  parents say. Obedience should be the second step, first being discernment. Children are bound to obey only those things that are morally right.  If an  alcoholic father serves his son with  liquor and  compels him to drink, Christian morality demands that the  son should not obey his father. If impious  parents tell their children not to pray,  Christian  morality does not  compel them to  obey their parents. 

As far as   obedience to  authorities is concerned Christians are  bound to fully obey  the authorities in all things that are morally right. When the authorities issue orders  against morality or public good we are  not expected to obey it. When a  certain order of the civil authority compels us to take part or actively  connive in a sinful act, it is not our  duty to obey  such orders.

For example many countries have legalized certain acts  that are patently against divine law. Often the governments actively promote or support  such things. What should be the  stand of Christians who are  compelled to cooperate with such a sinful act? They have to make a choice. Obey God who  commanded them  to do good  or obey the authorities who order them to do evil! Our duty ends where civil law goes against divine law. Our God wants us to disobey such laws and accept the  sufferings that it brings rather than enjoying the  fruits of sin served with the  coating of  legal permission. 

The apostles  have given us a worthy model to emulate. When the  authorities in Jerusalem told them  not to preach in the  name of Jesus Christ, Peter and John told them. “Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge (Acts 4:19). This happened twice. When the  high priest and his followers  put  the  apostles on trial, their demand was  the same, that the  apostles should not preach in the name of Jesus Christ! And the reply was given by all the apostles together. “We must obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29)

If you still doubt that  spiritual leaders could go wrong, history  teaches us  the opposite.  Bishops, Patriarchs and even Popes  subscribed to heresies and erroneous teachings on many occasions. They in turn instructed their flock to follow them.  But the  Church never hesitated to correct them later. Even during the heyday of  heresies, the  true faithful stuck to the   true  magisterium of the Church. 

The point to be  noted is that  neither God nor the  Church demands blind  obedience from us. Our duty to  obey  ceases when we are told to  do things that are   against accepted Christian moral standards and  Christian  faith. Then a question will  naturally arise. What should be  our stand when  we are  convinced of the erroneous nature of the instructions or teachings of  our  superior? Catechism of the Catholic Church exhorts the  faithful to respectfully disagree with  their pastors and superiors  in such instances (cf CCC 907). In other words the Church expects us to correct the authorities  when their  teachings or opinions tend to deviate from faith and morality. 

We have seen hundreds of priests and nuns who, despite their reservations, accepted  something that was useless and harmful to their body and mind,  just  for the sake of obedience. That too when the civil authorities gave them the opportunity to  skip it! If you insist that the  faithful should blindly follow what their pastors say, the  Catholics in many dioceses – especially in  Europe- will have to support an abominable union between two persons of the same sex in place of  the sacred institution of  marriage, because  their bishops are for it! 

We have no doubt that   obedience is superior to sacrifice, but with a rider! Obedience  should be to God. May all those who misuse this  sacred verse to demand unquestioned obedience from others  realize  that  ultimate obedience is to God and God alone. May those who quote this verse as an excuse to  obey everything their  superiors  say, also be enlightened  about this  cardinal principle of obedience that  obedience means only one thing and that is obeying what God commanded.



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