A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving
The readings for today include:
Psalm 50:7-15, Romans 4:13-25 and Matthew 9:9-13, 9:18-26.
The Church has recently entered ‘ordinary time’, a time to reflect on the life of the Church and what it means to be a representative of the Kingdom of God. The liturgical readings for this week offer a great insight into the life of a Christian. What does God’s word say?
In Psalm 50 we hear about a ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving’, it seems that this is the one act of sacrifice that God holds above all; however, in the book of Leviticus, which is the book that lays out the laws of the sacrificial acts, we find no mention of the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving: it is not part of the Law.
There are 5 types of offering within the Law as outlined in Leviticus: A burnt offering, a grain offering, a peace offering, a sin offering and a guilt offering. What Psalm 50 describes is likely the peace offering: but Yahweh is clear that beyond all these, he would rather have this ‘sacrifice of Thanksgiving’:
Verse 14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and perform your vows to the Most High. All good and well, but what is a sacrifice of thanksgiving? All the other offerings have nice clear instructions, laws about, what to offer, when to offer, how to offer and so on.
Luckily the writer of Psalm 116 comes to our rescue. The Psalmist sings of the Lord’s great deliverance from a profoundly distressing, life-threatening predicament; in response to the mercy that God shows him he writes: ‘I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people’
It seems then, that the essence of the sacrifice of thanksgiving is for someone to truly seek out a sincere relationship with the Lord, and to make it known to all God’s people.
What we read about in the Gospel of Matthew, is the real life outworking of that sentiment. Matthew is called into a relationship with Jesus and immediately obeys; then we read of them all relaxing together, not a care in the world even, as a group of Pharisees show up. Whilst that’s going on, a ruler, perhaps even one of the Pharisee, seeks the Lord to place his hand on his daughter to deliver her from this life-threatening predicament; and in the midst of that, someone else, in a profoundly distressing predicament, seeks to place her hand upon the Lord!
There’s a lot going on and Jesus is entirely unphased, because this is exactly what He came to do: Reach out your hand to me and I will put my hand on you.
Three public displays
Three people, ready and willing to seek the Lord, and each rewarded.
But what of the law? The laws of Sacrifice, the Laws of Moses, the law given to God’s people, what is its place now? Why would God make laws but then prefer something that wasn’t within that law? This is particularly pertinent to Christians
The Law can only take us some of the way to relationship with God.
We turn to the Apostle Paul, and his letter to the Romans. For Paul, the problem with the Law is twofold:
1) As a people prone to sin, that’s all of us, we just can’t keep God’s laws, and an all-knowing God knows this. Therefore, the law in fact becomes a barrier to deeper relationship.
2) The law does not imply a truly sincere relationship with God. That is to say, we can keep the letter of the law without keeping the spirit of it.
We can make our Burnt offerings, our grain offerings, our peace offering, our sin and our guilt offerings, but we can do so without any sincerity, void of any real meaning. When we take the Eucharist we must be mindful to take it in the right spirit.
That is why Jesus and Paul clash with the Jewish authorities; the Pharisee are determined to keep the people under the Law, and for them there is no room in the law for the admission of a new people. The law is ethno-centric, it was only given to the Israelites. The Christians don’t have the law, so we cannot be under the law, so we can’t be God’s elect.
But Paul pre-empts the Pharisee’s objection towards this new people of God; to any appeal they may make to the Law which would exclude us Christians as God’s people too. Paul reminds them that Abraham, was not only the Father of the Jews, but he was also told by God he would be the father of many nations. More importantly, he was given the promise of salvation long before there was any Law of God; it was based solely on Abraham’s sincere desire to be in relationship with God. For Christians sincerely seeking a relationship with Jesus, we too fulfil the true sentiment behind the Law.
Jesus, succinct as always, and not out of spite more out of pity says to the Pharisees ‘Go and learn what that means.’
So yes, there is still a place for the Law, and yes there is still a place for sacrifice: God’s Kingdom has come, but not in its final form. When the Kingdom comes, it will not be a Kingdom of Law it will be a Kingdom of Spirit.
As we reflect on what we read in the passages for today, I want you to think on this: A sacrifice is only a sacrifice when it costs something. what does it take to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving nowadays?
How much does it cost to publicly pronounce a desire to be with the Lord? Whatever cost that you might perceive remember this: Our God asks it of us.