Genesis 4:1-15,25; Psalm 49:1,8,16-17, 20-21(LXX); Mark 8:11-13
The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you,
I am God, your God.
I do not reprove you for your sacrifices;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
‘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;
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
‘Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I rend, and there be none to deliver!
He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!’
(Ps 49.1, 7-15, 22-23)
Psalm 49 (50) articulates clearly the sometimes hidden heart of all God’s dealings with God’s people: the all-sufficiency of God, to whom creatures can give nothing except praise and thanksgiving. Although throughout the Pentateuch and the psalms, it seems obvious that God requires obedience from God’s people, there is a still deeper desire in the heart of God: to give creatures everything.
How easy it is for me to forget that what God wants most in a creature is openness to receive the love for which we were created: God did not bring us into being to serve God’s own needs. In perfect self-sufficiency and in perfect freedom, God created all that is to reflect God’s glory and to delight in God’s love. God loves without needing anything in return; God’s love continues to flow, uninterrupted by rejection; God knows unrequited love better than any of us, because that is so often the fate of divine love in this fallen world.
Today’s psalm is followed up perfectly by David’s anguished plea for forgiveness in the next:
‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions’. And David recognized precisely what was required of him at that moment: ‘thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise’. So also I make his prayer my own today:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence,
and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of thy salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.