6“With what shall I come before the Lord?”
In the student union every Friday during my senior year in college, the students from the botany department sold flowers from their greenhouse. This was significant because I attended school in Minnesota where the snows lasted from Thanksgiving to April. For the price of a soda I could get one sweetheart rose to take to my girlfriend. I enjoyed giving the gift; it was sincere, not mercenary. But we all understand that arriving with a gift, however small, makes the other more favorably inclined to you.
And so the prophet asks: “With what shall I come before the Lord?” What gift will make God favorably inclined to us? What gift will generate a smile as you stand knocking at the door?
Even people who are not religious will cry out to God in times of great distress. Promises get made. We offer ourselves to save our children. I have heard the prayers that promise to go back to church or to make some sacrifice. I understand. It is an almost instinctual cry, as if God could be bought by some favor.
So the prophet poses our question: “With what shall I come before the Lord?” What will make God inclined to hear my prayer? To grant my request? But it doesn’t work that way. God isn’t interested in purchasing our trust and fidelity as if we were mercenaries. Jesus said that “God sends rain on the just and the unjust.” The mercies of God are open to all.
Standing with a rose at the door of my girlfriend’s place wasn’t an attempt to barter for favor. It was a gift to please, a gift that shows she matters to me, a gift spontaneously given because I want her to be happy. And what is the gift that pleases God? Is it our church attendance? Is it our donations? Is it our volunteering? The answer, consistently, throughout scripture is that it is not our sacrifices.
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
No, the answer is always about lives of compassion and faithfulness to the human community. We see it in our psalm this Sunday. And we hear it from the prophet:
8He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Justice and mercy will not make God concede to our prayers, but it does make the heart of the universe smile.