Bread – Strings

October 30, 2013


Readings for Wednesday, October 30, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Ezra 6:1-22; Rev. 5:1-10; Matt. 13:10-17; Psalms 49.53,119:49-72

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In Ezra, another set of orders from Cyrus concerning the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem is located by Darius. It reads in part: “Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the3 house be rebuilt … Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury … And whatever is needed – bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require – let that be given to them day by day without fail, that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.” Ezra 6:3-4,9-10

Thus we have a major example of a secular government (Persia, Cyrus and Darius) supporting a particular religion and religious people (Jews). And we have a major example of what happens when government supports religion – there are strings attached (“that they may …pray for the life of the king and his sons.”)

Now in and of itself, these strings are not “that bad.” After all, as Christians aren’t we supposed to pray for our secular leaders, those whom God has placed in authority over us, no matter how “bad” they might be? The answer is “yes,” so we could look at this as nothing more than requiring the Jews to do what they would do anyway.

And that is how strings begin, as something very small and insignificant. And what are these strings against the benefits the government is giving to the Jews? The government is funding the rebuilding of the temple and giving away everything necessary to do it, including the wages of the laborers. And all the government wants us to do is to pray for the king? NBD (“no big deal”). Right?

By now I think we ought to be cringing, because we know that, somehow, it is a big deal. We just can’t see it until the strings become overbearing, at which time we realize that we have been weakened because of our dependency upon the government.

Today, the secular government does not, generally, pay for the temple and the priests and the food for sacrifice because we are not living in a theocracy. However, the government does subsidize it. It subsidizes it by giving the church tax deductions and exemptions.

And what does it extract from the church for its subsidies and waivers? Again, the strings are subtle, but slowly but surely the anti-discrimination laws are being imposed upon the church (“we, the secular government, only want you to obey the law, which is generally applicable to everyone, and you should be doing that anyway, shouldn’t you – after all, Jesus says obey the authorities, right?). Free non-religious speech is denied to the churches if the churches want to maintain their tax-exempt status (“we, the secular government, don’t want you talking about politics because, after all, you should be talking about the Bible and how Jesus came to save sinners, shouldn’t you”). Little strings. NBD, right?

But lest we become too much the judge of others and not ourselves, don’t we condition our gifts with little strings? Don’t we give something to the church with the idea that it be used for X and then become upset when it is used for Y? If we are a major donor to the church, don’t we privately think that we should be consulted by the pastor before something is done? Yes, our gift is a free-will offering to the work of God, but can’t it also do double duty as purchasing influence?

Actually, Darius (and Cyrus) were just acting like normal humans when they hooked a little string on their response to God’s call on their lives to help support the temple in Jerusalem. After all, the natural human condition is to ask “what’s in it for me?”

How do we know we are exercising Godly love as opposed to humanly love? Maybe one of the tests is to ask ourselves whether we have put any strings on the gift. If we have, then maybe our love is not motivated by the Holy Spirit but by my carnal self, desiring to get something out of the transaction.

Next time we give something away and we don’t get a thank you or take the tax deduction, will we be mad because our string wasn’t honored or will we even notice because there was no string attached to the gift in the first place? Release the gift and the string attached to it. And enjoy your freedom.

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© 2013 GBF

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