Matthew 6:1-4 Monday 8 August 2016

Psalm: Psalm 130


Matthew's Gospel presents Jesus' major teaching in fivediscourses. The first of these discourses is the well-known Sermonon the Mount (Matthew 5:1 - 7:29). The discourse in chapter 5begins with Jesus going up a mountain (which Jesus does 11 times inMatthew's Gospel, perhaps recalling the revelation given at MountSinai to Moses).

Here in chapter 6, Jesus explores the meaning of true piety,righteousness and the consequences for our actions. Jesus focuseson the danger and temptation of hypocrisy, practising one's faithto receive the praise and adulation of others. The word 'hypocrite'occurs many times in the Gospels. Originally the word, referred toan actor in a theatre. Early in the first century, outdoortheatres, seating 2,500 were present in Jericho and Jerusalem; playacting would be a familiar concept. Jesus uses the word hypocritehere to describe and criticise those who acted out their 'piety' ina performance of righteousness without sincerity, drawing attentionto their actions, and therefore, themselves.

In the Greek theatres of the first century, trumpets oftenannounced a new scene or action, and trumpets might be sounded forprayer or worship, but there were no Jewish traditions of soundingtrumpets for almsgiving (charitable donations). Once again we findJesus using humour to illustrate his message, "Whenever you givealms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do inthe synagogues and in the streets". The message is clear and stark,beware of your motivations and desire for the praise of others.

Almsgiving was an important part of Jewish piety in fulfilmentof the Hebrew Bible's command to be generous to the poor. Jesusinstructs his followers, "when you give alms, do not let your lefthand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may bedone in secret". Our giving is to be motivated by our love andpraise of God and to the glory of God alone.

So in these four verses Jesus identifies the importance of threekey orientations of 'righteous living': right behaviour, rightattitude and right motivation. Giving to others is assumed,"whenever you give", followed by the instruction of how to give andwhy to give.

To Ponder

  • Reflect on your own giving. What motivates you to give?
  • In the communities you belong to (including your local church)how is giving decided and publicised?
  • What might our bank statements, who, how and what we give, tellus about our priorities for Christian discipleship?
  • Brian McClaren, in his book Naked Spirituality (Hodder, 2012),says "the secret of spirituality is to want to be better than youappear, the secret of hypocrisy is to want to appear better thanyou are". How do we challenge the hypocrisy of our ownlives? 
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