It has become popular to discount the Great Lenten journey with slogans half inspired by the Holy Scriptures and half inspired by our selfish desires. All the talk about prayer, fasting, and attending Church services during Great Lent, tends to bring out the ‘experts’ about what God ‘really’ wants from our lives.
Today’s reading from Proverbs below opens with what seems like one example. On the surface, it might seem that this passage is about making a choice of ‘either’ doing righteousness and justice ‘or’ offering God sacrifice. In the context of Great Lent, we could re-write today’s opening verse to read, “To be nice to other people is more acceptable to God than going to Church,” but this would not do the verse justice.
The word offering is a better translation of θυσία in Greek, rather than sacrifice. When we hear the word sacrifice (which actually means to sanctify or be made holy) unfortunately ideas of throwing virgins into the mouth of a volcano, thanks to HOLLYWOOD, fill our minds. Our offering to God is one of gratitude for the blessings He has given to us. We do not offer to God in an attempt to somehow gain an advantage from Him.
IF life was a choice between justice and worship, then I would agree of course that God would rather have us act toward others with justice because justice is a fruit of our love for God and others. IF justice becomes just another venue for us to gain advantage from God, then it is no different than a sacrifice of bargain which God also does not condone.
In truth, the Orthodox Christian way of life is a life of both-and, rather than either-or. Put in this context we better understand that God desires justice and worship. Translated to the season of Great Lent, that would mean that God desires us to fast AND help others. Pray AND feed the poor. Attend Divine Liturgy AND clothe the naked. It is when we forget the justice, that our offerings are rejected by God.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice. Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death. The violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just. The way of the guilty is crooked, but the conduct of the pure is right. It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a contentious woman. The soul of the wicked desires evil; his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge. The righteous observes the house of the wicked; the wicked are cast down to ruin. He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard. A gift in secret averts anger; and a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath. When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous, but dismay to evildoers. A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead. He who loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich. The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the faithless for the upright. It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and fretful woman. Precious treasure remains in a wise man's dwelling, but a foolish man devours it. He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor. – Proverbs 21.3-21