Journey to Jerusalem Day 4
Saturday, February 20 Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people 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 to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when 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.
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
It always struck me as odd to see Lenten observers walking around school, the grocery store, or work with ashes smeared on their foreheads. This passage would come to mind, and I would arrogantly think, “look at all these gloomy hypocrites, seeking attention for themselves.”
To be sure, some observe Lent with an aim to be seen by others. But the point Jesus is making here is NOT that our practices always remain hidden from the outside world; rather that our motivation in living out such practices be focused on God—to and for him. This God-ward motivation is in our best interest as Jesus notes three times, “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
If we focus too much on the negative connotation in the command—“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them...”—we may miss the weightier implicit command TO practice righteousness.
Righteousness here is an umbrella term that encompasses giving, prayer, fasting all with the aim of conditioning our hearts beyond slavery to the earthly, to true heavenly freedom in God.
Giving to those in need is a God-like activity. In the beginning, the world was in chaos, “without form and void” (Genesis 1:2). But God’s Spirit and voice brought order and creation to the chaos. When Adam and Eve sin they are immediately aware of their own nakedness; but their knowing is filled with shame.
And the gentleness of the garden has been overturned such that the elements are now harsh to their bodies. Seeing this fragility and need “the LORD GOD made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
Our giving to those in need is a participation in the giving activities of God. Prayer and Fasting are activities that enable us to identify with our own needs, and to find them met in our giving God.
Father, open our eyes to the needs of the world and ourselves, and to see your generosity more fully. Amen.