True Piety: Meditation for the fourth Sunday after Trinity
The word, piety, has its root meaning in the ancient Latin virtue that referred to a child’s obligation of love and respect for his or her parents. In our faith, it is applied to our familial relationship with God. It refers to the way in which we relate to God and things that are holy, manifesting in a loving reverence that is both respectful and intimate. Piety is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit enumerated in Isaiah 11:2-3 and can be demonstrated in acts of worship, obeisance and observances.
However, the danger with piety is that the acts can be feigned to achieve some ulterior purposes. Some lose sight of the true source and ultimate end of piety and instead, engage in seemingly pious actions for wrong reasons. It needs to be known that the motive behind all our acts of worship and expression of love to God matters more than the acts themselves. Nevertheless, the reality that external acts of devotion can be done for the wrong reasons does not negate piety. It is rather a case of abuse, which does not remove the use.
Piety can be true or fake. If piety is not based on a personal love for God, it is fake. Paul speaks of love as the source of true pious acts when he states, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-2). We need to watch it that our piety is not a case of leaving the substance to pursue shadow.
Reflections on the Bible Readings for Day (Mattins)
The OT passage (Neh. 8:1-12) portrays a typical worship scene with emotional outburst, show of obeisance and a demonstration of piety reminiscent of what is obtainable today. The people of Israel gathered in their number to hear the word of God. When the reader climbed the pulpit and opened the Holy Book, the people stood in reverence as we do when the Gospel is read today. As the reader blessed the Lord; “all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands; and they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground” (vs. 6). The sermon or exposition that followed was so impactful that all the people started weeping. But they were cautioned that piety was not a matter of emotional outburst at the worship arena. They had to go out in the strength of God to express their joy and reach out to others with the experienced love of God.
That is the true piety.
In the NT passage (Luke 11:37-end), Jesus confronted the Pharisees and the scribes with the fact that the mere observances of the outward religious ceremonials at the expense of the inward dimension and core requirement is of little or no effect and value. That was sheer hypocrisy. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law for outwardly appearing saintly and holy, but inwardly being full of corruption. They focused on outward appearances and ignored the inner condition of their hearts.
It is wrong and hypocritical for the people’s service and expression of love for God to come from a desire to be seen, rather than from a pure heart that is full of love for God and others. People may sometimes be fooled, but God will not. The inner attitude must match the outward act in order for piety to be true.
The Venerable Dr Princewill Onyinyechukwu Ireoba is the Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Centre, Agbarha-Otor, Delta State.
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