Since I took each part of Lent and dissected it to show you the positive side of it, I’m going to follow the same pattern here and show you the horrific pits found in Lent too. They’re going to be a bit longer, I’ve included more Scripture, so I think I’ll do a post on each, just because of the length
These are my own thoughts and observations, please treat them as such.
Giving up something good, something that doesn’t harm me, is supposed to make me think of the sacrifice and self-mastery that Christ has as well as what He gave up to rescue me. That’s the goal of “giving something up for Lent” but in the shadows of that goal, lurks a pit. That pit is the pit of false piety.
It’s the same trap that Israel all throughout the Old Testament fell into. It’s the same trap that I can fall into, unless I’m on my guard during Lent.
When the Pharisees chastised Jesus for eating with tax collectors (people who were sinners and ceremoniously unclean) He responded with this, found in Matthew 9:12-13
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
(The italics are mine, in fact for the rest of this post, when you see scripture with italics, I’ve added it for my own emphasis.)
Whenever Jesus says ‘is it not written,’ or ‘have you not heard ’or‘ go and learn what this means’ He’s about to quote from the Torah. Here, He’s quoting from the prophet Hosea.
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim?
What shall I do with you, O Judah?
Your love is like a morning cloud,
like the dew that goes early away.
Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets;
I have slain them by the words of my mouth,
and my judgment goes forth as the light.
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
But like Adam they transgressed the covenant;
there they dealt faithlessly with me.
Now, in Hosea there’s a little more revealed. Part of the sacrifice that Yahweh is talking about is a burnt sacrifice, and the directions for them are outlined in Leviticus.
The most important things to know about burnt offerings are these: they were a personal sin offering, they were needed for the Israelite to draw close to Yahweh, and they happened perpetually.
Every day Israelites under the Old Covenant had to offer burnt offerings, because of their sinful nature and their continual sinful state. But there’s more going on in Hosea than just offerings and sacrifices being talked about.
Yahweh is accusing Israel of being fickle, of having a love that is there only when the heat is not. He is saying that in their sacrifices there isn’t love for Him or desire for Him, and there is no knowledge of Him in their burnt offerings.
They have broken the covenant like Adam (Adam & Eve in Genesis thought that they knew more than Yahweh) and they are faithless.
I’m going to get bold, and paraphrase what I hear Him saying here. That’s all ways risky, but I’m going to do it anyway. I believe the Lord is saying in Hosea this:
“I see through all of your good works. I know that when you sacrifice the best of your flock, your intent is not to be right with Me; you don’t hunger for Me, you want to avoid punishment. You don’t even know Me any more. My character and My ways are of no interest to you. It’s one more thing to check off on your ‘to do’ list. I want your attention. I want you to desire Me, to want to be with Me, to long for My presence, not to appease Me and move on with your day, or feel better about yourself because you sacrificed and your neighbor did not.”
When Jesus references Hosea, He’s challenging the Pharisees with their perpetually sinful state and fickle hearts. He’s pointing out that while they are doing all the “right” things, they are as lost or more lost than the tax collectors. They don’t know God, and their heart is far from Him. The rebuke in Hosea to Israel, is the rebuke to me, when I slip into the pit of false piety at Lent.
It’s so easy to check off ‘sacrifice’ on my Lentin ‘to do’ list. It’s so easy to be just like the Pharisees, to be outwardly pious and make sure that everyone knows what I’m giving up for Lent. I can look down my nose at those that aren’t sacrificing like I am, and feel superior to them. My heart can switch onto autopilot, and I can sacrifice in the middle of my bad attitude, dark thoughts, and hidden sins. I can make the sacrifice an outward thing and keep myself far from Him.
I can turn what was meant to make me more like Him, into something that makes me the opposite of Him.
It is so easy.
And that is why sacrificing something during Lent is dangerous.