We don’t make sacrifices at an Altar in a Temple any more, and it certainly isn’t likely that we will any time soon.
So, what are we to make of this week’s text from Malachi? God shows great disgust that the people have offered “defiled food,” as well as “blind,” “sick,” and “lame” animals, and those “taken by violence.”
What in the world might this mean to us? Is there a deeper significance below the surface of these words about ancient practices that might speak to and guide us today?
Let’s begin by exploring some questions. Do people of faith today make offerings to God? Do we devote our time and energy in worship and prayer? Do we give of our resources to support church, synagogue, or mosque, where sacred encounter takes place and where we join together with others to come near God? Do we give of ourselves to love our neighbor as ourselves?
These sacrifices in our own time may happen on a regular basis. And they may happen when we feel called. They may feel right in moments of joy or necessity. They may be made on the occasion of personal or community celebration. They may be done through our own form of tithes or our leaving the “gleanings of the field” to those in need. For these reasons and more, we, too, respond to God’s call to draw near through offerings – not just for God’s sake, but also for our own.
But of what value is our approach if it is deficient or blemished? If we’re inattentive, unfocused, or wrongly motivated, how true is our worship and devotion? If what we bring is tainted, aren’t we tainted?
We seek from Divine encounter the blessing of holiness so that we might live more in the ways of loving-kindness. How can we possibly achieve that end if the spirit or the resources we bring were “taken by violence?”
If we bring less than our best to what supposedly matters most, aren’t we hypocritical or unserious, or both? If our offering can be characterized as blind, sick, or lame, then surely the love that accompanies it can be as well.
This week’s verses are designed once again to teach that we are to “love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might.” All, not half. All, not deficient. All, not tarnished. All, not “craftily” pretended to be all.
God loves us as God loved Jacob, and expects from us the love of Jacob, not the contempt of Esau. “A son honors a father,” we are taught in these verses. And, as such, we give honor and “a pure oblation” to our Parent, the One we hope and pray will “be gracious to us.”