17–23 February 2019.
Many cultures and religions around the world have had the idea that their gods needed to be fed. Food is important to us, and we like to feed the ones we love. It’s not surprising then that people also wanted to feed the gods they loved. So when things were going well in people’s lives and they wanted to give thanks to a god, a common way to do that was to offer that god some food. Today when we walk past local temples here in Taiwan, we still see this common practice of offering food to gods. It seems strange to us Christians. But it was actually something that the laws of Moses also commanded the Israelites to do. We see an example of this in Leviticus 3.
If things were going well in an Israelite’s life, the law encouraged them to bring God a “well-being offering”. An animal would be brought to the tabernacle, slaughtered, and shared in celebration with others. The person bringing the offering would keep most of it, but some parts were shared with the priests, and others could also eat from it. But the laws of Moses demanded that the best parts of the animal, the internal organs and the fat, were reserved for God to eat alone (vv. 3–5, 9–11, 14–16). As verse 16 tells us, the priests are commanded to burn these parts on the altar as a “food offering” to God.
For us Christians it really is quite strange to think of God in heaven joining in this sacrificial meal. And it’s odd to think that we could possibly feed God in this way. It’s already strange enough to see our non-Christian neighbours doing this, and even stranger to see this tradition in the laws of Moses. If you are uncomfortable with this idea, you aren’t alone. Jesus also thought it was strange.
It certainly isn’t strange to want to thank God and worship him. When things go well in our lives it’s not strange at all to want to praise God. But is offering God a barbecue really the best way to do that? Is God really impressed by sacrifices? In the gospel stories Jesus repeatedly tells people (for example in Matthew 9:13 and 12:7), “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’”
Moses and the Israelites thought they could thank God by feeding him. But Jesus teaches us that God isn’t hungry for food – he is hungry for righteousness. The best way we can thank God is not with a barbecue or with any other sacrifice, but rather by showing mercy and kindness to each other, by caring for one another, and by treating others fairly and with compassion. That’s what God wants, that’s what makes him truly feel satisfied. The best way to show our thanks to God for everything that he has done for us truly is to live a life full of mercy and love.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis