In Matthew 6 Jesus assumes that his followers (disciples/Christians) participate regularly in 3 spiritual disciplines (‘acts of piety’)—giving to the poor (the word alms has to with charitable giving to the poor and needy; vv1-6), prayer (vv5-15) and fasting (16-18). Today’s reading focuses on giving and praying.
Prepare to listen. Remind yourself God is present, closer to you than you are to yourself. Pray: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me (Ps 51:10).
Read Matthew 6:1-6
‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘Beware of practising your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.’ Jesus began his teaching on the practice of spiritual disciplines with words about motive--not to be see seen and praised by those around us, but to be seen by God and God alone. His illustrations are rather humorous (read them again and visualize) yet people do stuff like that. I once watched a proud man giving ‘alms’ (by this, Jesus meant giving to the poor and needy, as this man was doing). Instead of ‘secretly’ dropping money into the offering plate, he walked around waving his $100 bill for all to see! I sympathize with him because I know I too want to be seen by others. It takes discipline and practice, lots of it, to give up our desire and need for immediate brownie points, however transitory, and practice spiritual disciplines ‘in secret’ for a reward God will one day give. Jesus didn’t mean that we literally act in secrecy (so that not even the right hand knows what the left gives--impossible), but that we do our giving and praying generously and without the need for affirmation. In other words, for God and God alone.
‘Whenever you give alms…; whenever you pray.’ Reflect on your giving and praying and your motives for doing them.
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord Jesus, it’s easy for me to practice my spiritual disciplines and good deeds to be seen by others. Keep helping me let go of that need and practice with the only motive to do them all for you and you alone. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world, to be seen by the Living God.
Reading the Bible has always been essential to followers of Jesus. I've been reading, studying, teaching and writing reflections on biblical texts for as long as I can remember. I invite you to read the Bible with me during the Lent and into Easter Sunday.