“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
“To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”
-1 Samuel 15:22
One of my favorite movies, The Joyluck Club has a scene where the little girl version of June (the main protagonist) refuses to keep up her piano lessons. Her mother is livid and shouts, “There are only two kinds of daughters. Obedient and those who follow own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient kind!”[This quote is from memory and may not be exact.] As a father, I have quoted that line to my own daughters (to their general consternation and confusion and my amusement), but whatever we think of June’s mother and her parenting, she does note something profoundly true. There are two kinds of [people].
In the spiritual life, there are those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind. Jesus contrasted the wide way that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life. In the Old Testament, the prophets warned that “to obey was better than sacrifice.” Many children of Israel (and Saul in 1 Samuel 15) thought that religion was a tool to garner personal prosperity (pray the right way, perform the right ritual and God would bless the land, the crops, and bring peace). This didn’t transform their lifestyles. They did what they wanted but expected blood on the altar would absolve them and bring blessing into their lives.
What kind of people are we? Obedient or those who follows our own minds? The question becomes poignant in Lent. This is after all the season of self-sacrifice. We keep our little fast and observe our little rule and expect that God will bless us. The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” What good is our little rule if we aren’t being transformed into the image of Christ?
I have kept vegan during Lent and used the time to reflect on injustice in our food system and my own eating habits. I was asked recently about my reflections on this, but I don’t really have any. I know the first couple weeks were difficult and it got easier as Lent progressed. Now in the home stretch, I feel like it has been really good for me. I lost a bunch of weight and I feel good. It has its challenges and I will feast on Easter. I know that is possible that I can make this kind of liminal commitment with no lasting change in my life.
But if Lent is about more than our little sacrifices but learning to walk in obedience to Jesus, there is lasting fruit. I have tried to make space for prayer and Bible reading, to walk humbly with God and act where he tells me. I have tried to learn graciousness and act kindly. Jesus modeled obedience for us, in life and in death. The call on his life is the call to us as well.
How about you? How are you learning obedience in this season? What are the things God is calling you to do?