Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, May 02, 2005

Animal Sacrifice

Daily Readings
Proverbs 9 + Numbers 28 + Deuteronomy 21 + Romans 3

Quote of the Day
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

Daily Text: Numbers 28:1, 2

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Command the Israelites, and say to them: My offering, the food for my offerings by fire, my pleasing odor, you shall take care to offer to me at its appointed time.

Animal Sacrifice
Animal sacrifice. It is in the 21st century United States an anomalous and uninteresting topic. But is it abhorrent? What is it about animal sacrifice that leaves us cold? Could it be the primitive nature of sacrifice? The idea that killing an animal for a cultic mean is crude and without feeling? For the Jew of the eighth century B.C. it was a way to place the worshipper into a thoughtful, even prayerful relationship with God. In the case of the offerings described the worshipper brought the animal to a designated holy place and there made the sacrifice, sharing the meat with temple or tabernacle priests and Levites, and then sitting with family and friends for a meal of the sacrificed animal. Among the devout it was always understood that repentance and amendment of life must accompany these sacrifices to make them efficacious. Is it unlike a Lenten discipline? Do we really think giving up sugar without some spiritual intention that is actively pursued will do us or anyone else any good, beyond some ephemeral weight loss?

No, we continue to have feasts, not unlike the ones held in ancient times, feasts when family and friends gather around a roast lamb or side of beef. What has changed are the religious overtones and the fact that we have someone else do the dirty work, that is, the slaughtering.

The primitive nature of the sacrificial system often had to do with the idea that the gods wanted to see blood, or even eat the sacrifice. In Numbers 28: 2 the emphasis is on the god claiming the offerings as his own, and the pleasure taken in the ‘pleasing odor.’ At Gilgamesh there was found a parallel:
“The gods smelled the savor,
The gods smelled the goodly savor,
The gods gathered like flies over the sacrificer” [185:67]
But this has little to with Hebrew worship. In Psalms 50 this matter is addressed directly:
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.”

A change in world view is what affects us most directly and in order to read any ancient text and get any meaning out of it, one must intelligently suspend judgment on someone else’s world view, and understanding that, find meaning within their own. It is the most difficult of matters in reading holy scripture. One can neither adopt their world view or reject it and make sense for our time out of these writings. To accept these writings in some literal fashion is to hold the holy up to ridicule. To drop kick them into comic comments is to treat them similarly. Both of these attitudes is all too common in our own supposedly enlightened age. With Plaut we might readily say, “This does not mean that our age ought to be ready for any reconsideration of cultic sacrifice. It does suggest that when seen in its own context the biblical order of animal offerings was a genuine form of worship that cannot be quickly dismissed with prejudicial contemporary judgements.” [185:1218]. God has always reached out for his own in terms of the culture of the time. Alter that culture where necessary to be faithful, but accept it as the only way a people can live with sense and practicality in any age.

Meditation Twenty-Five
Second Series

Edward Taylor

One Lamb shalt thou offer in the Morning, and the other at Even.
And on the Sabbath day two Lambs etc.

Guilty, my Lord, what can I more declare?
Thou knowst the case, and cases of my soul.
A box of tinder: sparks that falling o’er
Set all on fire, and work me all in shoals.
A pouch of passion is my pericard.
Sparks fly when o’er my flint and steel strike hard.

I am a dish of dumps: yea ponderous dross,
Black blood all clotted, burdening my heart,
That anger’s anvil, and my bark bears moss.
My spirits soaked are drunk with blackish art.
If any virtue stir, it is but feeble.
Th’ Earth magnet is, my heart’s the trembling needle.

My Manna breedeth worms: thoughts flyblown are.
My heart’s the temple of the God of Flies.
My tongue’s an altar of forbidden ware
Fancy a foolish fire enflamed by toys
Perfumed with reeking offerings of sins
Whose steaming reeks delight hobgoblins.

My Lord, is there no help for this with thee?
Must I abuse, and be abused thus?
There morn, and even sacrifices be:
To cleanse the sins of day, and night from us.
Christ is the lamb: my prayer each morn and night
As incense offer I up in thy sight.

My morn, and evening sacrifice I bring
With incense sweet upon mine altar Christ,
With oil and wine two quarters of an hin
With flower for a mean offering all well spiced
On bended knees, with hands that tempt the skies.
This is each day’s atoning sacrifice.

And thou the Sabbath settledst at the first
And wilt continue it till last. Wherefore,
Who strike down Gospel Sabbaths are accursed.
Two lambs, a meat, and drink offering God more
Conferred on it than any other day
As types the Gospel Sabbaths to display.

Here is atonement made: and spiritual wine
Poured out to God: and sanctified bread
From Heaven’s given us: what! shall we decline
With God communion, thus to be fed?
This Heavenly fare will make true grace to thrive.
Such as deny this thing are not alive.

I’ll tend thy Sabbaths: at thine altar feed.
And never make thy type a nullity.
The ceremonies cease, but yet the creed
Contained therein, continues gospelly,
That make my feeble spirits will grow frim
Hence I in Sabbath Service love to swim.

My vespers and my matins I’ll attend:
My Sabbath service carry on I will.
Atoning efficacy God doth send
To sinners in this path, and grace here stills.
Still this on me until I glory gain.
And then I’ll sing thy praise in better strain.


Anonymous Gerry said...

I interpret animal sacrifice as the profound recognition that sin kills, and that in justice a life must be exchanged for a life. The animal takes the place of a human being,and is meaningful besides because animals were valuable and cherished. Thus their sacrifice represent a sacrifice of the heart for the owner.

11:16 AM  

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