Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Penny and A Pearl

“If you owe the Lord a penny, He will not accept a pearl.”
St. Isaac the Syrian  

We do not understand value the way God does.  Sometimes in our life there are pennies we owe God: little sins He asks us to forsake, little sacrifices He asks us to make, little weaknesses in others He asks us to endure graciously, little gestures of kindness he asks us to perform.  And yet we resist.  We resist in the little thing and offer something to God that we think is much bigger, much more important.  

We may owe God a penny’s worth of faithfulness in forsaking what seems to us a small indulgence in pornography, for example; but instead we offer God long prayers.  We may owe God a penny’s worth of kindness shown to some annoying person whom we’d rather avoid; but instead we make a large donation to the poor.  We may owe God a penny’s worth of regular, daily prayer; but instead we fight for social justice.  We owe God a penny; but we offer a pearl instead, or at least what we think is a pearl.  

Isaiah warned us that our righteousness is as filthy rags before God.  Similarly, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for making long prayers while exploiting widows and for being excruciatingly careful in fasting while failing to show mercy.  God doesn’t need our long prayers, our donations, our strict fasts, or our social activism.  God sets the terms of our relationship, we do not.  It is the broken and contrite heart that God does not despise.  To obey is better than sacrifice, the prophet Samuel tells us.

When our heart tells us that we owe God a penny, that penny is the pearl to God.  And until we offer that penny, anything else, in God’s sight, may be just a filthy rag.

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