Do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing by Jamie Arpin Ricci

Today’s post in the series Return to Our Senses is an excerpt from Jamie Arpin Ricci’s book The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom. Jamie is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood. He is planter & pastor of Little Flowers Community, in the inner city of Winnipeg. Jamie is also forming Chiara House, a new monastic community. He is a third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus and is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his wife Kim & son, Micah.

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“When you give to the needy, do not let you left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is don in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3).

How should we understand these secret works of righteousness? Interestingly, the Greek word used for “acts of righteousness” is not the same word in every manuscript. Some ancient manuscripts that include this passage use the same word for “righteousness” as the one in the Beatitudes, the righteousness/justice we are to hunger and thirst for. Other manuscripts, though, use an entirely different word meaning “almsgiving” or simply “gifts to the poor.” While the best manuscripts use the former meaning (that is, they refer to works of justice), the reason the other meaning is used at times is because the primary “act of righteousness” in the Judaism of Jesus’ day was almsgiving.

The use of both Greek words suggests that Jesus was referring to the Jewish practice called tzedakah, a Hebrew word that loosely means “charity” but has as its root the Hebrew word for justice (tzedek). Rooted in the gleaning laws of their agrarian past, the complexities of the developing economy led to a more sophisticated set of guidelines and requirements about giving to the poor.

However, consistent throughout that development was the central fact that such giving was always to be done anonymously. What we can glean, then, is that while Jesus is commenting broadly on works of justice, most of his listeners would have thought immediately of tzedakah. And given that Jesus continues by directly addressing the practice of almsgiving in the following section, this connection is obviously intentional.

The connection between righteousness/justice and providing for the poor must not be missed or minimized. Its long history in Judaism and Christianity, and Jesus’ clear affirmation of its continued practice, should be more than enough to make us mindful of its significance for the church. As we have explored earlier, it is not uncommon these days for Christians to believe that God calls us to care for the spiritual needs of others, with material needs being of secondary priority (and often a distant second at that). Some even go so far as to say we are not called meet the material needs of the poor at all. However, most would simply minimize such charity as a secondary, less important aspect to the higher spiritual calling of saving souls.

We cannot miss that Jesus makes no such division or distinction between the spiritual and material needs of humanity (thus making us equally “poor” before God). The righteousness and justice we are called to hunger and thirst after, and the shalom we are called to create in the world—even in its brokenness—is absolutely concerned with the whole person, indeed all of creation. The disintegrative nature of sin is being reversed by the work of Christ’s redemption, moving us toward the intended wholeness of creation, reflected in the nature of the Garden of Eden before sin. It was good! Our commitment to Christ and his mission, then, must be equally devoted to the restoration of the whole person and the whole creation.

When we understand the dynamics at work here, we see that Jesus is not teaching anything new in respect to the requirement of giving to the poor (and acts of justice in general), nor are his warnings about doing so to be seen as righteous by those watching us. This was something all good Jews knew to avoid. However, Jesus is not forbidding us from doing works of righteousness before others (which would indeed be a contradiction of his earlier mandate), but rather he is warning us against doing such works for the purpose of being seen by others. Once again, Jesus is forcing us to examine the intentions of our heart, for the true nature of our righteousness is found there, not in the act itself. We must live in the tension between the interior formation of our hearts and the ethical behavior it gives birth to. We should not be surprised that this was such a common problem in his day. After all, which of us does not like getting praised for our good works? This is a universal temptation that we all face.

Jesus calls such people, with their public displays of so-called righteousness, “hypocrites.” This would have been an even more cutting rebuke then than it is today, for in addition to it meaning those whose expressed beliefs that were not reflective of their heart, the people would have recognized it as the Greek word for actors or performers. In other words, they were fakes and frauds, pretending to be someone or something they were not. After all, it certainly was not about the recipient of the giving or the God who mandated it, but rather it was about the giver receiving praise and honor for his or her devout generosity. Jesus tells them that their acts will mean nothing to their heavenly Father, but that the passing, fickle praise of others will be their only reward. It is here we see for whom we should be doing such good works. Like a child running with their crayon drawing, shouting, “Look what I made for you, Daddy!” so too should our main motivation in such acts of service be about pleasing our heavenly Father, whose love for us is the greatest, truest and only reward we desire. And ex- tending from that love of God, we should be moved by genuine love for others.

(an edited excerpt from “The Cost of Community: Jesus, St. Francis & Life in the Kingdom”, IVPress, 2011)

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Let Us Desire Nothing But God – A Prayer by St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi

St Francis of Assisi via Dating God

I was sent this prayer by St Francis of Assisi a few days ago by Jamie Arpin Ricci. It was posted at Dating God: Franciscan Spirituality for 21st Century.  It seemed a very appropriate prayer for me this morning as I have been meditating on what means to keep Jesus always in my sight and to enter into prayer with all my heart and soul and mind.

A couple of days ago in my post Can We see the Face of God and Live, I mentioned that I have been reading  Lord, Teach Us To Pray by 19th century Scottish pastor Alexander Whyte. He reminded me that “prayer is the very highest energy of which the human heart is capable.; prayer, that is, with the total concentration of all our faculties. He goes on to say: Believe me, to pray with all your heart, and strength, that is the last, the greatest, achievement of the Christian’s warfare on this earth.

Therefore,
let us desire nothing else,
let us want nothing else,
let nothing else please us and cause us delight
except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior,
the only true God,
Who is the fullness of good,
all good, every good, the true and supreme good,
Who alone is good,
merciful, gentle, delightful, and sweet,
Who alone is holy,
just, true, holy, and upright,
Who alone is kind, innocent, clean,
from Whom, through Whom and in Whom
is all pardon, all grace, all glory
of all penitents and just ones,
of all the blessed rejoicing together in heaven.
Amen.

If you are wanting a challenging approach to prayer you may like to download a pdf of Whyte’s book here

St Francis of Assis – by Jamie Arpin Ricci

St Francis of Assis

St Francis of Assis - beyond bird baths and sound bites

Today’s post is the second in a series by Jamie Arpin Ricci around the themes of his just published book The Cost of CommunityJamie is an urban missionary, pastor, church planter and writer living in Winnipeg’s inner city West End neighbourhood. He is planter & pastor of Little Flowers Community, in the inner city of Winnipeg. Jamie is also forming Chiara House, a new monastic community. He is a third order Franciscan with The Company of Jesus and is founding co-director of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) Urban Ministries Winnipeg with his wife Kim & son, Micah.

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St. Francis of Assisi

In many ways, beyond bird baths and sound bites, I only became really familiar with St. Francis of Assisi after watching the 1972 Franco Zeffirelli film, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”.  A loose retelling of the early part of Francis’s life, the movie borrows strongly from cultural themes of the 1960’s & 70’s.  In other words, Francis is something of a peacenik, hippy, love child (albeit, a celibate one).  When I first saw the film, I loved it- moved by the beauty and poetry and devotion of the young saint, identifying with his dissatisfaction with the nominal expressions of faith around him.  The story captured me and drew me into the life of St. Francis.

As the years went by and my exploration of St. Francis and Franciscan spirituality/missionality deepened, I began to see how inaccurate the film had been.  Of course, every film made about a long past era inevitable (even necessarily) borrows from current contexts to allow the viewer to more meaningfully enter in.  However, I found myself increasingly troubled by how this version neutered Francis, making him a loveable, gentle eccentric.  The Francis I was discovering was bold, uncompromising and excessively radical in his devotion to Jesus.  His powerful example was being watered down in the film!  And so, I stopped watching the movie altogether.

Several more years have past since then and something strange has happened: the movie has grown into my heart once again.  Is it any less misleading?  No, my concerns are still as strong as they once were.  And yet, I cannot help but feel a strong sense of gratitude for this film.  After all, it was this simple and accessible telling of Francis’s life that helped me on a journey that would alter the whole course of my life.  Without it, I wonder where I would be today.  And so, I accept it for what it is and forgive it for what it is not.

I have also come to realize that my journey with Christ has had a similar trajectory.  The Jesus of my childhood looks very different than the Jesus I follow today.  Having more to do with living a moral life and providing a means to avoid hell, believing in Jesus then looked different to following Him now.  I was taught nothing of His call to live justly.  Faith was largely a private, personal piety you devoted oneself to.  The essential communal expressions of Christianity were all but unmentioned.  One might think I follow a different God altogether.  And yet, how can I begrudge a tradition that ultimately led me to active relationship with God and a place within His chosen people, the Church?

Please understand- I am not suggesting my past faith is something I have grown out of or above.  As we consider our past- those places, people and choices in our faith journey that seem less than ideal, it is important that we embrace the discipline of gratitude.  Such thankfulness does not ignore nor deny the failings that were there, but failing to be grateful denies the honesty of our journey towards Christ.