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an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah and offer a burnt offering to God so that the pestilence be withdrawn.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.