It is certainly true that God shines forth from Zion, perfect in beauty, but the rays of that heavenly illumination fall upon a world steeped in complexity. Ours is a world being redeemed, not by the sacrifice of bulls, but by the sacrifice of Christ. So with the psalmist we respond by offering a sacrifice of praise.
But what is that? How can praise be a sacrifice? When I lift my hands on high or sing a song of thanksgiving, such an offering seems to bear no resemblance to the ideas embedded in blood sacrifice, which call for the offering of a life and costs the sacrificer much.
Praise, though, is not always costless.
Consider the situation recorded in Exodus: “They all answered with one voice, ‘we will do everything that the LORD has told us.’” Perhaps on that day they did, but we know from reading the rest of the Old Testament, that the people did not always keep their word. Their sacrifices frequently became empty and inauthentic. Empty sacrifices are not acceptable to God. As Christians we live under the New Covenant and are not called, like ancient Israel, to offer blood sacrifices, but we are not so different from them. On a good day we may praise the Lord and promise to do “everything God has told us.” On a bad day we fall far short of this ambition.
With an awareness of my failure and my successes I hear Matthew’s message reaching across the ages. In the past I have tended to read this text as a description of good people and bad people being mixed up in the world only to be finally separated at the last judgment. This is still a good reading, I think. Yet today, the text speaks a different word. Both weeds and wheat are in me. My resistance to conversion continues, and I fall short of perfection. It may be that many of our most offensive weeds can be dealt with while we live, but there may be some weeds that are so tightly integrated with our personalities that they may never be pulled without causing harm to the fruit of our goodness. It may be that these must await the last judgment for their final culling.
The saints are untied in their testimony that perfection eludes even the just. None of us will every reach the point while we live when we can say “I have done everything that the LORD has told me.”
To praise God for our failures in gratitude for his mercy is hard, very hard. It is, in fact, a sacrifice.
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