At the Altar
I don’t know all the meaning that’s embedded within the idea of offering a gift at an altar. I wrote yesterday of my own insufficiencies, and this is one of them. I’m not qualified to unpack the full meaning of what it means to approach an alter, to bring our gifts to an altar, worshipping God at an altar, or making a sacrifice at an altar. I think there are a couple of things we can say about it, however.
I think we can agree that “the altar” is a metaphorical place where where we go to meet God. We know we’re not going to “meet” God physically, as we would expect to “meet” the President. Hopefully, we don’t really think that what we’re drawing towards is actually a big man in the sky. Rather, we use “meet” in the metaphorical sense, of reaching out of ourselves spiritually toward a place where we may be touched by the penultimate. We prepare our inner selves, seek to reach and hopefully touch something that’s spiritually on a different level and beyond where we live in our daily lives.
If we’re honest, we acknowledge not only that we’re inadequate to see or touch God, but also that we’ll never be adequate. We know we fail to meet even our own expectations of ourselves, let alone God’s.
We dare to turn our face toward the flame of the burning bush anyway.
We claim to be humble as we do this, but are we? Do we have any hope of meeting our ideals or God’s minimal expectation? Do do we even know what (or care) what those ideals and expectations are? Consider Matthew 5:23-24 :
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
Well, that’s an interesting standard. It doesn’t say, “go flagellate yourself,” or “recite five rosaries,” or “make proper prayer hands.” It says, go make peace with your brother.
Again, I can’t read the Greek, but the English grammar is also interesting. It doesn’t say to reconcile if YOU have something against your brother, to let go of your own grudges. No, that would be too easy. I am required affirmatively to search my life and ask whether there is anything someone could hold against me as a grudge, and ask them to forgive the grudge they are holding against me! Once again, this turns the way we ordinarily think (or at least the way I think) on top of its head. Normally, I’m only monitoring my personal grudges against so and so, not worrying what I might have done to offend someone else. But, imagine a different world. Imagine a world where we were always so proactive to remain in right relationship with each other.