Check the fat content

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 — Week of Proper 6, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 970)

Psalms 119:97-120 (morning) // 81, 82 (evening)

1 Samuel 2:12-26

Acts 2:1-21

Luke 20:27-40

Many years ago, I made a terrible mistake at the bagel shop where I worked: I accidentally served two customers fat-free cream cheese instead of low-fat cream cheese. (There’s a tremendous difference between a little fat and no fat at all!) I’ll never forget the looks on those customers’ faces as they bit into their unpalatable bagels . . . and complained to my manager.

I thought of my mistake when I read about Eli’s wicked sons: They refuse to serve God the fat that he seems to want! When faithful people bring meat as an offering, these priests use a three-pronged fork to gather the largest portion from the boiling pot for themselves. Since roast meat is probably better than stewed meat, they also try to get a raw cut of the offering before it goes into the pot in the first place. One man pleads, “Let them burn the fat first, and then take whatever you wish.” The priests’ servant responds with a threat: “you must give it now; if not, I will take it by force.” The priests want their fat; God can take the leftovers.

I’m struck by the pain of these pious Israelites making their sacrifices at Shiloh, and having the best parts of their gift syphoned off by the greedy and entitled sons of Eli, who hold themselves accountable neither to the God nor to the people they are meant to serve.

What keeps you from offering your very best portions to God’s service? What forces and factors are claiming the meatiest and richest parts of yourself, or the gifts that God most strongly craves? We know from other parts of Scripture what offerings God truly desires from us—what the “fat,” so to speak, of our offerings and sacrifices should be.

The God of Isaiah has “had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts” (1:11); he calls his people instead to “offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted” (58:10). The prophet Hosea speaks these words on behalf of God: “I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice” (6:6), which Jesus quotes as “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). When Israel asks, “Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?”, the prophet Micah replies that the Lord simply requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:6, 8). And finally, Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that we should be reconciled to one another before offering a gift to God (Matthew 5:23-24).

Our offerings of justice, mercy, and reconciliation don’t always have to be grand gestures. In today’s reading, Hannah’s annual offering of “a little robe” for her son makes the biggest impression on me. I imagine Hannah estimating how big her son will be the next time she sees him, and preparing a garment that will last another whole year. Eli blesses Hannah “for the gift that she made to the Lord”—not just the little robe, but her son himself, whom she offered to God’s service. In fact, he will be the true heir to Eli’s ministry, and not Eli’s corrupt sons. Hannah’s offering is genuine and complete.

What is the fat content of your own offering to God? Does it fulfill the justice and mercy that God requires? Does it come from your deepest self, as God desires? Am I lifting to God the “cream of all my heart,” as the poet George Herbert put it? It never hurts to check the “fat” content of the gifts that we offer to God each day.

Inspired as a child by Maria Von Trapp, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus,

Lora Walsh strives for wisdom, justice, and a simpler way.  She serves

as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director

of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by

St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas

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