From Psalm 50 (the Lord speaking):
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it.
13 Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 50 [from the Book of Common Prayer 1979] – May 2, 2012)
This psalm is not the only time Holy Scripture reports God’s displeasure with the sacrifice of animals. Consider these words from the first chapter of the Book of Isaiah, “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation – I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.” (Isa. 1:11-13) Despite all of the ritual directions found in the Law and in the Histories (see, e.g., Exodus 29, Leviticus 1, Numbers 7, and 1 Kings 18), the Psalmist, the first Isaiah, and especially the Prophet Micah make it very clear that sacrificing innocent animals is not what Judaism (or religion in general) is all about. Micah writes, “‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will 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?’ He 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?” (Micah 6:6-8) It may be that doing justice, loving kindness, and walking with God may (and often does) require one to give up one’s possessions, one’s livelihood, even one’s life. But such “sacrifice” without the demanded ethical basis, sacrifice done only to curry favor with God, is not what God asks or wants. ~ It is from this ethical stream in ancient Judaism that Christianity flows. It is unfortunate that early Christian writers looked back to the sacrificial practices of the Temple to find an analog to crucifixion of Jesus; we might have seen the Christian religion develop differently if, like the writers of the Gospels, they had looked more to the prophets. Jesus certainly did: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) ~ So spare that bull! Sacrifices of animals (or their modern analogs, whatever they may be) are not the sacrifices that demonstrate love of God and love of neighbor. Rather, the core of ethical religion is as the writer of the Letter to Hebrews said: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Heb. 13:16)