Matthew 6:1-4 NRSVue
1“Beware of practicing your righteousness 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.,
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Some thoughts on this scripture
How do I know where my treasure is? See where my thoughts and behaviour gravitate when there is no job to be done, no routine to guide me. Some people go to sleep, some make love, some read, watch TV, go fishing, talk to friends. What is my magnetic North when there is no pressure on me? Do my thoughts move towards my family or friends? My hobbies, my work? Or towards money? Calvin defined an idol as anything that stands between God and me; in this sense the human mind is a factory of idols.
Lord, I would not want to see myself as a Scrooge, salivating over my accounts. Infiltrate my heart with a capacity for real love.
Jesus reminds us of Isaiah's words, "This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." (Matthew 15:8). Echoing the words of the prophets, Jesus reminds us that religion can sometimes be ostentatious. God sees the heart, wanting ‘mercy, not sacrifice.' God wants the love of our hearts and our care for others. Public religion is saved from being mere routine by prayer which can purify the heart. When we pray with the heart, what we do in public is done for God and the love of God.
The instructions on prayer, fasting and almsgiving recall the reasons for our faith and religious practice. Religion can be used for selfish reasons like being well thought of. God asks that we focus on his place in our lives in our faith. Lent is a time to recall the priority of God in our lives: that we come from and go to God, and that God is the companion of our lives.
Ash Wednesday 2009 sees ten years of Sacred Space. Perhaps you can bring to mind in your prayer now the others who will pray here today, give thanks for any blessings you may have received and draw encouragement from not being alone as you pray.
This piece of Gospel highlights three essential elements in religion: prayer, self-control and giving to the needy. each of these brings us in touch with God - prayer brings us into the mystery of God's love, fasting or self control alerts us to our real dependency on the creation of God rather than on God, and giving to the needy is giving to God who lives and is poor in those in need.