I have heard two competing philosophies for how to cook with wine. Some say that the wine should be “good enough to drink” if you’re going to cook with it. Others say that using even a decent wine in a dish is a waste. Which is it? Should you splash the $3 bottle into the pot roast, or should you put at least $12 of wine in there?
In today’s OT reading in the Daily Office (Malachi 1:1,6-14), we encounter some priests who faced a similar dilemma. As part of the religious life of Israel, priests would offer sacrifice in the temple every day. In the Law of Moses, God requires that animals with no spot or blemish be presented for the sacrifice, but the priests had been offering “blind animals” and “those that are lame or sick.” Finally, God had had enough of it, and he used the prophet Malachi to cry against these underhanded practices. But why was that so wrong?
God doesn’t need the sacrifices. He makes that clear in Psalm 50:12-13, declaring, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?” In other words, God doesn’t actually consume the sacrifice. So why does it matter? Wouldn’t God want his people to enjoy the choice kid or calf instead of sacrificing it and burning it on the altar where no one would be able to enjoy it? Why wouldn’t God say, “Look, just show up and give me something. I’ll take whatever is left over. You can have the first portion. Just don’t forget to bring me something?”
Of course, that isn’t what God says. God demands our very best. And it’s not because God needs anything. It’s because we need to give it to him.
What happens when we get in the habit of giving to God only what is left over? What happens when we get to the end of our week and look for enough time to go to church? What happens when we wait until all the bills have been paid and try to find enough money for a tithe? What happens when we finish using our emotional energy on work and family and friends before asking whether we have enough reserves in our spiritual tank to direct some energy to our relationship with God? What happens? Our faith falls apart.
God asks for the very best because God knows that our faith suffers when we give him what is left over. Our offerings shape our relationship with God. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What do you give to God? No, we don’t travel to the temple with an animal sacrifice in hand, but we do encounter God every day. What are we giving him? Is it the 30-second prayer in the car on the way to work? Or are we giving him our very best?
So back to the wine. Pretend you’re making dinner, and the recipe calls for red wine. You have two options—the $3 bottle and the $12 bottle. Which one do you use? Does it depend on who is coming over for dinner? If it were your boss, which bottle would you use? If it were the President of the United States, which one would you use? If it were a celebrity or a mentor or a rich philanthropist, which one? What if God himself were coming over for dinner? Would you splurge just a little bit, or would you still give him the dregs?