Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

https://soundcloud.com/hapearce/reflection-for-may-16-2022

Matthew 6:1-8 and 16-18

Giving to the Needy

     1“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

     2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Prayer

     5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

 Fasting

     16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

This passage is instruction from Jesus on the subject of three spiritual practices – giving to the poor, prayer and fasting.

And as we have in the past, we’re going to skip verses 7 through 15 of this passage in our Reflection for today. They’re important verses in which Jesus gives us the Lord’s Prayer, but I suspect Matthew inserted the material about the Lord’s Prayer here because Jesus was talking about another aspect of prayer, so those verses kind of digress from the main point of the rest of the passage. We’ll think about the Lord’s Prayer in tomorrow’s Reflection.

In talking about these three spiritual disciplines – and probably about all other spiritual disciplines, too – Jesus is making the point that those of us who follow him are to perform these disciplines in ways that glorify God, not ourselves.

We live in a secular culture, where being thought of as ‘religious’ isn’t as important as it used to be. But in the time when Jesus walked physically among us, religious practices like prayer and fasting and keeping holy days were important markers of the identity of the Hebrew people. And some people seem to have observed those practices in ways that were intended to attract attention to themselves and burnish their reputations as ‘people of faith.’

But in this passage, Jesus warns against doing anything to bring glory to ourselves instead of to God. Because trying to glorify ourselves isn’t really a matter of faith – it’s just public relations.

Of course, it’s still common – at least in some circles – to portray yourself in public as deeply religious. In Jesus’ time on earth, people would apparently stand out in public and pray loudly so everyone would hear them. Loudly praying in public might be out of style in most of America now, but we all know that it’s still a good strategy for politicians to portray themselves as ‘religious’ in order to get votes. Even politicians who demonstrate little or no commitment to any faith most of the time promote themselves as ‘people of faith’ during election campaigns.

The truth is that wanting people to like and admire you – to think you’re a good person – is a part of our human nature. But as you might remember from our earlier Reflections based on the Sermon on the Mount, one of the main themes of this part of Matthew is that the followers of Jesus aren’t supposed to be living in conformity to our sinful human nature. We’re supposed to be being transformed. We’re supposed to be living by a new spiritual nature – in imitation of Jesus. And imitating Jesus means doing good, not so that other people will admire and praise us, but so that they will give him the glory.

Sometimes it’s kind of complicated. Jesus said those of us who follow him are “the light of the world,” and that we’re supposed to let our light shine before other people. So apparently, it’s sometimes a good thing for our “acts of righteousness” in Jesus’ name to draw the attention of the people of the world. But it would seem that when that happens, we’re supposed to make sure to give the glory to God instead of claiming it for ourselves. We’re supposed to make it clear that we do good things, not because we’re virtuous or morally superior, but rather out of our love for Jesus and at his command. We do good to please him, and as a way of saying ‘thanks’ for all the blessings we’ve been given by God.

Jesus says that if we do good in secret, our God will reward us. I suppose he could have reminded us that we’ve already been given a gift more precious than anything we could ever hope to earn, anyway – we’re been given the gift of new and eternal life in Jesus.

Let’s pray: Lord, we thank you for the privilege of doing good in your name. We pray that you will bless us to our service, and inspire us to go and do our acts of righteousness so that glory is given to you, and not to us. Move us to do good deeds as a way of expressing our thanks for what you have already done for us in Jesus. Amen.

Blessings,

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 97 and 115; Leviticus 16:1-19; and I Thessalonians 4:13-18. Our readings come from the NIV Bible as posted on Biblica.org, the website of the International Bible Society.)