Pastoral Reflection for January 27, 2021


Then the heads of the families, the princes of the sons of Israel, and the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the officers over the king’s work, offered willingly. They gave for the work of the house of God five thousand talents of gold and ten thousand darics of gold, ten thousand talents of silver, eighteen thousand talents of bronze, and one hundred thousand tal-ents of iron. And whoever had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the house of the Lord, into the hand of Jehiel the Gershonite. Then the people rejoiced as a result of their willingness, for they offered willingly to the Lord with their whole heart. King David rejoiced greatly.
With this, King David blessed the Lord before all the assembly, saying….But who am I, and who are my people, that we are able to be zealous in offering to You? For all things are Yours, and of Your own we give to You. For we are strangers before You and sojourners, as were all our fathers. Our days upon the earth are as a shadow, and there are none that remain. O Lord our God, as for all this abundance which I have prepared that a house should be built to Your holy name, it is of Your hand and all is Yours. I know also, O Lord, that You search the heart and You love righteousness. As for me, in the sincerity of my heart I willingly offer all these things. And now I see Your people who brought themselves here joyfully to of-fer willingly to You. O Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep under guard these things in the thoughts of the heart of Your people forever, and lead their heart toward You…Then David said to all the congregation, “Now bless the Lord your God.” And everyone in the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed down before the Lord and the king. (1 Chronicles 29:6-10, 14-18, 20)

Despite a regular discipline of daily Scripture reading, every once in a while (more often than I care to admit) a passage strikes me as radically new to my eyes, and even sometimes takes my breath away in beauty and meaning. Such is this passage above from 1 Chronicles. The whole Old Testament story of the planning and building of the temple has great meaning as an icon of the Church alive in the risen Christ and the temples that we worship in today. In the story above, David recounts the plans he made for his son, Solomon, to build the “house of the Lord.” He listed everything he gave towards the project — an immense amount of treasure. Then he basically asked his people, “Does anyone else want to help provide for the house of the Lord?” And we see the tally of their generosity. There is no doubt that this passage is a passage about two things: the love and care for the house of the Lord, and the definition of “stewardship.” In a general sense, we can define the love and care of the house of the Lord simply in the narrative of the offering and the numbers of people and the amount of the gifts. They came. They offered. The definition of “stewardship” in a single sentence and illustrated in the prayer of King David is the realization that “all things are Yours and of Your own we give to You.” We say virtually the same words when we lift up the Gifts that are offered at each liturgy: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee…”

Two things stood out to me in their power and beauty. The first is the word “willingly” (willingness). It is used five times in the eleven verses above. So much of our relationship with the Lord and His Church revolves around our willingness to love Him, hear Him, trust Him and offer to Him. It is not just time, talent, and treasure, although those are certainly important and necessary to caring for the Body of Christ. I often think of the Myrrhbearing Women. They heard the Lord speak the words of life, they loved Him to the point of staying at the Cross when even His disciples fled, they trusted Him in their almost impossible journey to anoint His body (“Who will move the stone for us?”), and they offered themselves in that effort. Isn’t that the bottom line? Our love, attention, trust and offering are embodied sometimes in things like money, but all is for naught if the first offering isn’t ourselves. We come to the Body to care for Him. We come to the temple to encounter Him. The subjects of King David were myrrhbearers; we are myrrhbearers!

After the beautiful prayer of King David, he makes an amazing command to his people: “Now bless the Lord your God.” And they did. It takes my breath away to ponder “blessing the Lord.” We always ask God to bless us, we ask a bishop to bless us, we ask a priest to bless us, we even sometimes ask someone to bless us with their prayers. But we are reminded here that we are to bless Him! We sing in the First Antiphon at liturgy from Psalm 103, “Bless the Lord, O my soul…” We begin the liturgy with the doxology, “Blessed is the Kingdom…” How do we bless Him? How do we bless His Kingdom? With praise, with faith, with steadfastness, with repentance, ultimately and finally with love. To know that the Lord so loves us that He condescends to become one of us to the point that we can bless Him is to know that we are commanded to “bless the Lord Your God” because He blessed us first. All that I offer Him, beginning with my very self, is only His to begin with.

Bless the Lord, O my soul!