Burnt Offerings In Today’s World

Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time
Tob 6: 10-11; 7: 1b-e, 9-17; 8: 4-9a; Mark 12: 28-34
Deacon Larry Brockman

Wouldn’t you love to hear Jesus say these words to you: “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” Just what was it about the Scribe that prompted such a compliment from Jesus:

Well, the essence of it is this: This Scribe understood that loving God and neighbor with his heart and mind is worth much more than any sacrifice he might offer up. I think it’s worth digging into what all of this really means to us today.

First, notice that Jesus’ compliment is not over the words as much as it is how he read what was in the Scribe’s heart. Jesus senses that the Scribe really understands the meaning of love of God. He had internalized it; it was integral to his being. And that is probably because Jesus had gone through that experience himself. He had gone off into the desert after his Baptism by John and came back dedicated to loving God and neighbor. That was the essence of his preaching- the greatest commandment. So, Jesus could relate to how the Scribe projected his words; there was a sort of “kinship” in Spirit between them.

That kinship addresses what wasn’t said more than anything that was said. What wasn’t said, but what was meant, was that love of God and neighbor means deferring one’s self. And this deference is motivated by a love of God so strong, that His will, not one’s own, is one’s primary focus.

By contrast, consider the idea of sacrifices of burnt offerings. That’s hard for us to imagine. After all, we don’t do anything like that these days. We don’t slaughter, burn, and sacrifice animals as an offering to God.

But just for a moment consider the motivation of these Old Testament burnt offerings. These sacrifices were done to gain favor with God. Someone would offer God his best ram in a burnt sacrifice in the hopeful expectation that God would do one of the following: forgive him a transgression; heal him from some infirmity; or help him to achieve some goal. You get the picture- they were kind of directed at fulfilling something for the person making the offering. The focus of the burnt offering was on one’s own agenda.

Jesus turned all of this upside down in the Gospel. His sacrifice was not to gain favor with God- He already had favor with the Father. He sacrificed his own life for all of us. Jesus deferred to God’s will always- such was his love of God and neighbor.

Now while it is true that we don’t burn sacrifices to gain favors; we do, in fact, focus many of our prayers and petitions on our agenda, and we even make incredible sacrifices for our loved ones and children. We ask for favors for ourselves- a healing, success in the work we do, help in finding a suitable partner. And we extend those prayers and petitions for others. We even do many things for others in deference to ourselves. We ask the Lord to heal our friends and family, bless the work they do, and bless their relationships. We help them when they are in need. There is nothing at all wrong with any of that- as far as it goes.

But, our focus in all of that needs to be on trusting in God and loving others even if it means deferring our own interests. Oftentimes that means trusting God in difficult situations to the point that we give up control. That is hard- and indeed, it was hard on Jesus.

I go to the hospital to help the chaplain two days a week. I see people all the time there who have made incredible sacrifices for other people. These sacrifices have stressed them out so much that they have affected their own health. Even when they are suffering, they are trying to maintain control of everything that is going on in their lives. This is done out of a real sense of responsibility. But, they are like the folks in the Old Testament who offered the best of what they had as a burnt offering hoping God would favor them, so that they could maintain control.

God sometimes has mysterious plans that we don’t understand. We have to love God enough to trust that when we reach our own limits it is necessary to trust the love and providence of God. At some point we have to let go and let God take over. We can’t be in control of complex situations when we are incapacitated ourselves. Rather, we have to love God enough to trust in his mysterious providence and let God be in control. Our motivation has to be love of God and neighbor, not love of our plan for our neighbor.

It is with this trust in God that we will be truly close to the Kingdom of God.

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