The first passage from scripture today comes from the First Letter of St. Peter:
3 Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.
This is a very popular passage around these parts, as it provides a valuable insight into the kind of character that a Christian woman should develop. However, that is not what interested me in my latest read-through of this part of the New Testament. Instead, I was intrigued by the notions of modesty that it presented. As I thought on it, I realized that there are really two different forms of modesty, one in harmony with chastity and the other in harmony with humility. To be somewhat clearer, one form of modesty is about dressing and acting in such a way so as to not call unnecessary sexual attention upon oneself. The second form of modesty is about not dressing and acting in such a way so as to flaunt one’s influence, wealth and station in life. Part of me recognized this already, although I never fully digested it. I think that it is not uncommon for many Christians to fail to appreciate the differences between the two, despite the fact that many dictionaries recognize the two modes of modesty. Certainly this confusion seemed to manifest itself in this thread over at Cane Caldo’s blog. Both types of modesty are similar, in that they both involve flaunting to some degree, but the nature of what is showcased, and how this is done, can and often does differ greatly.
The modesty that St. Peter is referring to in his letter is the second type of modesty, the type which centers on flaunting station and authority. He is advising Christian women to not be show-offs, because their focus on outward appearance through clothing, jewelry and makeup is inherently tied up with worldly concerns. I would venture that in most cases this showing off is not in any way connected to something holy, such as a wife providing a good face for her husband. Instead, it is about impressing others (especially other women), and so to be avoided. This concern about showing off one’s station appears many times in scripture, especially the New Testament. And a common theme seems to be protecting something holy from being tainted by worldly concerns. The Gospel of Matthew has another example of this kind of twisting of what is holy:
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. 3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Here it is Charity that is being twisted into something it was never meant to be. It was not meant as a means of demonstrating wealth or station, but of trying to helps us to show concern for our fellow man. And in the process hopefully teach us a valuable lesson about love. But instead the hypocrites (probably Sadducees here) perverted God’s purpose, thwarting what could have been something that would have helped them store rewards for heaven. Let Jesus’ message here serve as a warning, attention is a reward all right, but not one that is going to truly last.
The final reading today is from, you guessed it, the Book of Sirach:
9 A daughter is a secret anxiety to her father,
and worry over her robs him of sleep;
when she is young, for fear she may not marry,
or if married, for fear she may be disliked;
10 while a virgin, for fear she may be seduced
and become pregnant in her father’s house;
or having a husband, for fear she may go astray,
or, though married, for fear she may be barren.
11 Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter,
or she may make you a laughingstock to your enemies,
a byword in the city and the assembly of[a] the people,
and put you to shame in public gatherings.[b]
See that there is no lattice in her room,
no spot that overlooks the approaches to the house.[c]
12 Do not let her parade her beauty before any man,
or spend her time among married women;[d]
13 for from garments comes the moth,
and from a woman comes woman’s wickedness.
Sadly, this is another part of Scripture that seems to be overlooked these days. Many fathers don’t appear to have the appropriate level of worry for their daughter’s well-being. Or any, really. Rather than worry about their daughter’s not marrying, they push their daughters to get an education and then get the right career afterward, with no concern for how those paths might impact their daughter’s chance for a good marriage. Since the “fear of being disliked” here probably references divorce, many Christian fathers do seem to fear this. They fear it so much they push their daughters towards paths that increase the chance of divorce. And of course, in
many most cases it is the daughters, not the husbands, who file for divorce.
As for fear of seduction, father’s don’t seem to be concerned about that terribly much these days. After all, they have no problem sending their daughters off to college, far away from the kind of moral support and strong masculine presence they need resist “Alpha” males. Oddly enough, it seems like many fathers are more willing to support their daughters when they fornicate and became single mothers, than support them and their husbands as newlyweds. As for preventing daughters from parading their beauty in front of other men, do I really need to say anything? Have you see what many young women wear to church these days?
When it comes to spending time with married women, well… to be frank spending time with most nearly any woman who isn’t an immediate family member (and one of good character at that) is tantamount to child abuse, given the negative influences young women will likely pick up. I suppose I should also point out that Ben Sir knew about “The Herd” over two thousand years ago, so once again we see how the ancients understood so much we are now finding out. Ours is a mission of rediscovery, not of boldly going where no man has gone before. Perhaps if more Christians actually read the Bible, and spent less time singing “worship” music that resemble love songs about Jesus, we wouldn’t be taken for fools so often.