Leviticus provides us a listing of the old law, which contains several offerings that must be made to God and the atonement procedures for sin and uncleanness. Most of these require rams, lambs, bulls, goats, and other large livestock. But there's also generally another set of possible offerings, often birds, and they always begin this way:
But if you cannot afford [the listed offering]...
And this is one of the things I love about God. He doesn't price Himself out of the market.
There is, for sure, a high cost for faithfulness. Anyone who has made a decision for God in the face of culture knows that. And just reading this list of rules in Leviticus reminds us that we have it fairly easy today. The price is still high, don't get me wrong. But God puts the emphasis where it's meant to be.
On the act, not the object, of sacrifice.
See, it doesn't much matter to God whether you sacrifice a ram. He understands that not everyone has a ram, and even those that do may not have a ram suitable for sacrifice. Yes, this is the preferred offering, the prescribed offering, but if God staunchly requires a ram, He cuts Himself off from His own people when they do not have, or cannot afford, a ram. That's not who God is.
So He's given us this second set of rules, too. If you cannot afford a ram (or a goat or a lamb or a bull or whatever), bring Me something cheap. Bring Me a couple of birds. Bring Me a dusting of flour. Bring Me something. Because what's most important is the act of sacrifice.
What's most important is that we're willing to come to God at all. That we turn back toward Him when we've done something wrong or broken the covenant. That we're not afraid to stand before Him, declare our guilt, and atone for our sin. That we're seeking Him at all costs, even at small costs when that's all we can afford, and that we're working on this relationship. That we're interested in this relationship. That we keep coming to Him. We can't do that as sinners or as unclean men and women, and so He's made a way for even the poorest among us to still come Home.
Isn't that amazing?
I am not a person of means. I don't have a lot of money just lying around. I read some of these rules and regulations in the old law, and it's easy for me to see that I'm one of those people that, outside of the grace of the poor man's sacrifice, could easily be unclean forever. How am I ever supposed to scrape together enough money to buy a ram? I'm just trying to put food on the table!
But I could probably afford a couple of birds. The New Testament tells us just how cheap the birds were. I could find enough odd jobs for that, and then all of a sudden, there's a way for me to come back. There's a way for me to stand before God again. I'm so incredibly thankful.
Now, I know, we're not living under the old law any more. None of this really matters in any practical terms. Except that it does show us what kind of God we serve. He's a God who has always made a way for everybody to come to Him. He's a God who does not neglect the poor. He's a God who welcomes all. In the Tabernacle, by accepting an offering of pigeons even when rams seem better. In the streets, by preaching on hills and healing blind men and calling men out of trees. Even in Jesus, He never set Himself apart for those who could find a way; He set about finding them. Making a way for them to come to Him because He wasn't hiding.
We'd do well to remember that. For the poverty in each of us and the poor among us.