Everything in the  country belongs to the  king. Then if the king wants to  offer a burnt offering to God for  saving his people from a deadly plague,  he is well within  his rights to  procure the material for offering from  his people. When somebody offers the material free of  cost, the king’s duty becomes much easier.

But  King David  was a  different person and  his thoughts were also  different from  ours. Once he was  instructed by  prophet Gad to  offer a burnt offering  at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  We know the context. David ordered Joab and the commanders of  his army to ‘go through all tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and take a census of the people, so that he may know how many there are’ (2 Sam 24:2). After all,  it was peace time, and it was  good for the  army to  be given some assignment, thought the  king. Joab, the commander- in-chief, was  against  taking the census because he knew that   it would not please  God. But ultimately he had to  obey the king.

The census took  nine months and twenty  days to complete, and after the tabulation Joab submitted the final figures to the king. There were a total of thirteen  hundred thousand  ‘soldiers able to draw  the sword’ (2 Sam 24:9). David should have been happy on hearing this good news, but the Bible tells us that ‘he was stricken to the heart because  he had numbered the  people’ (2 Sam 24:10).  By the time the exercise of census was over it dawned on David that  his action offended God. It was then that Prophet Gad came to David  with a message from God. The  nation should go through a period of  chastisement for the misdeed of the king. Three options were given; three years of  famine, three months of fleeing before the foes, or three days of  pestilence. David selected three days of pestilence confessing that   it was better for the nation to ‘fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great’ (2 Sam 24:14).

So it happened. A pestilence ravaged  the country for three days and the number of Israelites who perished in it were an astonishing seventy thousand.  David met the  angel of God commissioned to execute the order from heaven near  the threshing floor  of Araunah. David  prayed for sparing  his people  from punishment, because it was he and not the people who sinned against God.

That day prophet  Gad  came to David again  and  told him to erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of  Araunah and offer  a burnt offering  to God so that the pestilence be withdrawn. Accordingly David went to Araunah, who was too happy to offer his  threshing  floor  to erect the  altar. He was ready to offer even  the oxen for  sacrifice,  and the threshing sledges and  yokes of the oxen  for   wood.  It was  then that David gave a reply that is  more relevant in  our times. David said; ‘I will not offer  burnt offerings to the Lord my God that  cost me nothing’ (2 Sam 24:24). He started  building the altar only after  buying the threshing floor and oxen by paying fifty shekels of silver.

Every offering has a price tag attached to  it. But we, in our folly, think that  we can please God by offering sacrifices that  cost  us nothing!  Know that  sacrifices that cost us nothing would not  find favor with  God.

One thing that should not escape our attention is that  by the end of the  pestilence the  angel who was bringing  destruction  among the people was  ‘stretching out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it (2 Sam 24:16). If  the angel of destruction reached the doors of  Jerusalem, the city  chosen by  the eternal God  to be his abode, do you  think that he will  spare us, the  chosen people of God?

This time  calls  us to  repent for  our sins lest we will have to  accept the  wages of sin. To spare the Church from the consequences of our iniquities, repentance is the only way and  lent is the best time for it.  We should  commission a census not of the people, but of our  own sins. In a world  deeply polarized into  two warring camps –  for Christ and against Christ- our attempt  should not be  aimed at  counting  the numbers because  numbers are irrelevant  in the eyes of God. Oftentimes, God has proved that victory in  a battle is  not  the result of numbers but a  blessing from heaven.Instead of counting who are with us  and who are against us, let us take a census of our sins; every thought, word, and deed that  offended God. Remember that  we may not be as lucky as David, for he got the freedom to choose from  three options.  We might be  left with no choice as  happened in Sodom.

Why does repentance become so urgent to save the  Church from further destruction? Because we, the children of God, fill it  with every kind of  wrong that was unimaginable in the past. ‘As a well keeps its water fresh, so she keeps fresh her wickedness; violence and destruction are heard within her; sickness and wounds are ever before me. Take warning, O Jerusalem, or I shall turn from you in disgust, and make you a desolation, an uninhabited land’ (Jer.6:7-8). We are  filling our cups with our  sins on earth and in heaven the  cup of  God’s wrath is  also getting filled up. The only thing that holds back the cup of God’s wrath from being poured upon us is the eternal sacrifice  of Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the world  fails to  realize the  true value of this eternal burnt offering and  compete to  mock it  in as many ways as possible. We pollute the  altar ‘by thinking  that the Lord’s table may be despised’ (Mal 1:7). To fulfill the prophecy we erect  walls of  iniquity around  the  Lord’s  altar.

Remember that we are  standing by the  threshing floor of Araunah, and the  stretched hand of  the angel of destruction is very much  above us.  Israel was saved from   further destruction because the  king had the eyes to see the  angel of destruction  standing at their door. As for the  reply to those who think that  punishment  could be averted by offering sacrifices that cost them nothing,  David had already  given it.

 Lent is the time to  offer  burnt offerings that cost us dearly. Those days of lent that we spend without sacrificing anything real will not be  counted in heaven. A lent that we  observe as a ritual, without sacrificing those things that   please us most will not  help in averting the  impending  punishment. Our prayers should  be to spare us, our Church, and the  world at  large from the  hand of the  angel of  destruction. Let our  prayers,  our penance and  our works of reparation compel heaven to withdraw the  stretched hand of the  angel of  destruction  from  us.

We invite all  our readers to  join us  in  observing this lent  in a spirit of reparation for   all the wrongs that we, the children of God, committed in  the  Church, the mystical body of  Jesus Christ, our savior and redeemer.