Charity & Piety

Charity & Piety

Matthew 22:34-40 | Exodus 22:20-26

In the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Before COVID I went on pilgrimage to Walsingham with one of the churches in Hereford where I was a Curate and I was there with my training incumbent called Rob North. And, Rob is one of the gentlest, kindest, most beautiful men you will ever meet, and if you ever need an example of how you live your life as a loving Christian in God, Rob is it – it’s never about him – It’s never about HIS mission. It’s never about HIS church. It’s always about God, but not in a way that makes you feel like you’re being hit over the head with the gospel. It’s just done in this most beautiful and loving way, 

The pilgrimage didn’t start terribly well. We arrived and I opened the car door for one of the ladies and in the door handle I caught a bee and the bee stung the end of my finger. And let me tell you, that’s one of the most painful things I have experienced.

And Rob was there immediately, are you OK? Exactly as you would expect him to be. “It’s fine”, I declared through the pain. 

Even in that moment of pain all I was thinking about was, “right, we’ve got the pilgrimage and in half an hour we’ve got to be in chapel for our first visit to the Holy House. We’re here to pray to God to see our lady. 

That’s what we’re here to do. That’s what we must do, because I am here to love the Lord, my God, with all my heart, all my mind and all my soul.

That’s more important and actually this pain is a distraction and I must crack on.”

And so we went to the Holy house. I was in pain. I was utterly distracted from what was going on. But I was there, and I’d done what I was there to do. I had been properly pious. I had loved the Lord my God with all my heart, my mind and all my soul. But I hadn’t really prayed because I was completely distracted about this pain in my finger. 

Anyway, off it passed and Rob was watching me out to the side of his eye through the whole thing and I could see that he knew exactly what was going on. And I had an inclination that at some point later in the pilgrimage, Rob would take me aside and told me that I should have gone and sorted that out and not worried about the praying.

Well, at dinner that evening, one of the one of the ladies at the table had bad toothache, really bad, she was in so much pain. And so Rob cooked up a scheme to be able to get her to an emergency dentist in King’s Lynne the following morning.

We made the phone calls, all sorted. 

I sat there and all I could think about was that the following morning we were meant to be doing the rosary walk around the garden. And that Rob, going off and taking this lady to the dentist was really going to cause a problem in the schedule that I devised for us on pilgrimage. We were there to pray. We were there to love the Lord, our God with all of our hearts and everything else had to go out the window.

But I didn’t show any of what was going through my mind, I didn’t think I showed any of my apprehension of the fact that we weren’t going to be able to do what we were there to do. 

Rob got up from the dinner table as he was leaving he just lent over my, shoulder and he said, Father, charity before piety.

I have not had a more fundamental understanding of what it is that God calls us to do, what Jesus calls us to do than in that moment.

I was focused so much on the piety of what I was there to do, that I’d forgotten the love that we were called to share with one another. And in that moment, the right thing to do was to make sure that that lady was comfortable, wasn’t in pain, and could get her problem resolved. It wasn’t for us to walk around the rosary garden and say our prayers. It was to love that lady, to love that woman who was in pain.

That was what we were called to do in that moment, charity before piety. And since then, I have understood this piece of scripture in a way that I never did before. It just managed to reach inside me and change my whole outlook on life. That’s what this gospel is supposed to do today. It’s supposed to reach inside you and change your whole outlook on life. In fact, we have some help in understanding it in Exodus, we have the story of if you take another’s cloak as a pledge, you must give it back to him before sunset.

Now, the justice in this is clear. If you have given your cloak over as a pledge against something and you don’t give that thing back, then you don’t get your clock back. 

I have given you this in exchange for this and if I don’t do that. You get to keep my cloak. That’s justice. No one is going to disagree if you take that into a court, you would be right.

You must give it back to him before sunset. 

But, it is all the covering he has. It is the cloak he wraps his body in. What else would he sleep in? 

So even though justice would have been on your side, it would not have been the right and loving thing to have done to withhold the only comfort that that man has. 

You would not be loving the lord your God with all your heart if you withheld the cloak… 

Do understand what’s going on there, do you get how fundamentally differently that means we must live our lives?

The shift in what it means to be a Christian when charity comes before piety. 

It’s enormous and. I know it’s something that you understand, because over the last few weeks you have filled the foodbank with your gifts for those who need it most – the cupboards at the back of church is now full. 

That means that when people come in here in suffering and in pain and hurting and hungry, we can feed them and we can care for them. 

Charity before piety.

Go home today. And read this gospel again. What does it mean to you day by day, what does it mean in your life? What have you done recently that this would have changed? What moment in your life over the last few weeks should there have been a person who lent over your shoulder and said charity before piety? And just keep that little voice on your shoulder, the voice of the Holy Spirit, as you live your life day to day.