Date: March 2, 2022
Lectionary Link: https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearABC/Lent/AshWed.html
Contributor: Cheryl Bailey
I’m new to having a conversation about religious texts with my friends and family at St. Christopher’s, and my reading of Biblical phrases and admonitions is unsophisticated. Do any of you remember Father Jack Hershbell? (He and his wife Anne are doing well in Lexington, VA, by the way). He is a scholar and a linguist, and I loved his sermons explaining what the Greek root of a word, or how centuries of translations change the interpretation of a reading. Still, I don’t have that level of knowledge, and tend to feel pretty salty about the lack of women’s voices in our Bible. The written works that mean the most to me have direct correlation with my life, and the human behaviors I’ve noticed.
My assigned readings for the St. Christopher's Lenten Devotion Project started with a reading from Joel, with clouds and thick darkness, weeping and mourning. Joel was pretty worked up, wasn’t he? I passed.
Next was Isaiah, who pointed out the hypocrisy of those who fasted while oppressing workers and fighting. A lot of back and forth in this passage, and although I could eventually follow his reasoning if I really concentrated, he took an awfully circuitous route to make his point. His writing style, as my teens would say, is pretty judgy. I passed.
Ahh, the Psalm. I can imagine sitting in church, chanting the words with Karla’s lush piano arpeggios and the choir leading the tune, and I did love the phrase, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Still, I never liked the image of God as a father caring for his children. The concept of God, a Creator, all-knowing, is just too big to fit into that role, and there have been too many billions suffering in the world for that to resonate with me. Our human attempts to define the Lord can be feeble. I passed.
Maybe the Epistle would be the text to reach me? Ah, not so much. The text in 2nd Corinthians that states we are so pure and patient and perfect that "no fault may be found with our ministry” certainly doesn’t describe me! Plus he used eighty-four words in one overwrought, run-on sentence. I counted. I needed to breath while reading it aloud. Yep, I had to pass.
That left me with the Gospel. Ding, ding, ding! Straightforward advice about not flaunting our piety and purity. Not drawing attention to our perfect adherence to religious rules. Just do the good deeds and keep quiet about them, already. I’m grateful to Matthew’s version of Jesus’s words about not showing the world how “religious" we are. This concept I can understand immediately, and can try to apply in my own life. The caution from Jesus that excessively public piety, donations, and prayer is all for show, and unnecessary since God already knows, is exactly how I see a loving and supreme Creator. Jesus urges putting on a normal face to the world all while doing good works, and that strikes me as exactly what the Episcopal Church stresses.
Our congregation is filled to the brim of good and generous people, doing endless kind acts and tasks to help others and protect our earth, never asking for recognition or praise, never drawing attention to themselves. This text from Matthew reminds me to look no further than so many of the people who share a pew with me in St. Christopher’s. I will think of them yet again as mentors, guiding me as to how I can lead a better, more generous and useful life without drawing attention to myself. At first I thought of this as a Midwestern thing, but there are plenty of cruel and mean Midwesterners, aren’t there? It could be a Christian thing, but we can all come up with contemporary “spiritual leaders” who blow their horns (there was a lot of horn blowing in today’s passages…) all while committing unspeakable acts.
Rather, the urge to do good works without expecting recognition is a godly thing. We don’t own it in the Episcopal Church, of course, or even in Christianity. Still, we are lucky and blessed to have a large number of people in our midst who manifest that beautiful trait all day long. Thanks be to God, and our fellow parishioners.