Week of Proper 4: Saturday, Year 1   11 comments

Above:  A Mite from the Reign of Alexander Jannaeus, Hasmonean Priest-King of Judea, 103-76 B.C.E.

In Praise of True Piety

JUNE 10, 2017

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Tobit 12:1, 5-15, 20 (Revised English Bible):

After the wedding celebrations were over, Tobit sent for Tobias.

My son,

he said,

when you pay for the man who went with you, see that you give him something extra, over and above his wages.

So Tobias called him and said,

Half of all that you have brought with you is to be yours for your wages; take it, and may you fare well.

Then Raphael called them both aside and said to them:

Praise God, and in the presence of all living creatures thank you for the good he has done you, so that they may sing hymns of praise to his name.  Proclaim to all the world what God has done; pay him honour and give him willing thanks.  A king’s secret ought to be kept, but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.  Acknowledge them, therefore, and pay him honour.  Do good, and no evil will befall you.  Better prayer with sincerity, and almsgiving with righteousness, than wealth with wickedness.  Better give alms than hoard up gold.  Almsgiving preserves from death and wipes out every sin.  Givers of alms will enjoy long life; but sinners and wrongdoers are their own worst enemies.

I will tell you the whole truth, hiding nothing from you. I have already made it clear to you that while a king’s secret ought to be kept, the works of God should be glorified in public.  Now Tobit, when you and Sarah prayed, it was I who brought your prayers to be remembered in the glorious presence of the Lord.  So too when you buried the dead:  that day when without hesitation you got up from your meal to bury dead man, I was sent to test you.  At the same time God sent me cure both you and Sarah your daughter-in-law.  I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who stand in attendance of the Lord and enter his glorious presence….And now praise the Lord, give thanks to God here on earth; I am about to ascend to him who sent me.  Write down everything that has happened to you.

Psalm 65:1-5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

2 To you that hear prayer shall all flesh come,

because of their transgressions.

3 Our sins are stronger than we are,

but you will blot them out.

4 Happy are they whom you choose

and draw to your courts to dwell there!

they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,

by the holiness of your temple.

Mark 12:38-44 (Revised English Bible):

There was a large crowd listening eagerly.  As he taught them, he said,

Beware of the scribes, who love to walk up and down in long robes and be greeted respectfully in the street, and to have the chief seats  in synagogues and places of honour at feasts.  Those who eat up the property of widows, while for appearance’s sake they say long prayers, will receive a sentence all the more severe.

As he was sitting opposite the temple treasury, he watched the people dropping their money into the chest.  Many rich people were putting in large amounts.  Presently there came a poor widow who dropped in two tiny coins, together worth a penny.  He called his disciples to him and said,

Truly I tell you:  this poor widow has given more than all those giving to the treasury; for the others who have given had more than enough, but she, with less than enough, has given all that she had to live on.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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The Bible does contradict itself.  For example, Tobit, Psalms, and Proverbs link piety and good fortune to each other, but Ecclesiastes is more realistic and Jesus and Paul recognize that suffering flows from righteousness much of the time.  Being a Christian, I side with Jesus.  This fact does not prevent me from enjoying the Book of Tobit, however, even if I reject the formulation that almsgiving atones for all sins.

I choose to focus on the positive instead.  The entire extended family of Tobit is now healed, thanks to divine actions.  And Raphael reveals his actual identity and returns to Heaven.  Before he departs, however, he utters timeless wisdom:

A king’s secret ought to be kept,

but the works of God should be publicly acknowledged.

Jesus, in Mark’s Gospel, tops off a series of conversations (mostly confrontations) by condemning scribes who display false piety in public for the sake of status.  They have honor because social rules say they do.  This honor is worthless in the eyes of God, Jesus says.  These honor seekers are really predators who “eat up the property of widows.”  This is an apt description of temple tithes imposed upon the poor.  Then Jesus observes wealthy people giving large amounts of money they would never miss and a widow depositing two mites, a much smaller sum.  Her offering impresses him the most.  She trusts God, and the others do not.

These offerings supported the Temple system, which of the Jesus of Mark opposed.  This point should be plain by now to anyone who has been reading this Gospel for twelve chapters.  The widow gave money because her society expected it of her and because this was the piety she had learned.  Her sincerity and trust impressed Jesus.  I read this story and come away with a second thought:  Why should anyone expect such a widow to support the corrupt Temple system?  She should have used the two mites for necessities.  God would not have held that decision against her, I think.

Besides, organized religion cannot contain all of true piety.  The widow already practiced this piety, for she trusted God to provide for her needs.  And she acknowledged it in public.  That impressed Jesus.

It is well and good to seek to understand the meaning of a Bible story first within the contexts of history, culture, and texts.  Indeed, we need to begin there.  Then we need to move to the next level, which is contemporary application.  So I leave you, O reader, with open-ended questions:

  • How much do you trust God?
  • Are you helping to support a modern counterpart to the corrupt Temple system of Jesus’ time?

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.   Amen.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/in-praise-of-true-piety/

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Posted November 19, 2010 by neatnik2009 in 2017, Canadian Anglican Lectionary Year 1, June

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