Wednesday 13 February 2013

Bible Book:

"And your father who sees in secret will reward you." (v. 4, 6, 18)

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 Wednesday 13 February 2013


For the devout Jew in biblical times, there were three centralworks of religious life: almsgiving (charity giving), prayer andfasting. In today's passage Jesus offers criticism and advice oneach, suggesting it is as much how you do things as what youdo.

Jews treated almsgiving as sacred - they used the same word'tzedakah' for both righteousness and almsgiving. So if a persondesired to be good, then they should practise giving to those inneed. But the teaching of the rabbis said that whoever gives almsin secret is greater than Moses. Jesus' words (verses 2-4), then,are consistent with others of the time.

When you give to others, how do you give? There can be a varietyof motives - duty, sense of moral superiority, desire to show howgenerous you are. Perhaps it is worth misquoting 1 John 4:19 -instead of "We love because [God] first loved us", 'We give because[God] first gave to us'. Our giving should be a response of love,love for others as a response to the love of God. No one else needknow - not even the giver - "and your Father who sees in secretwill reward you" (v. 4).

Concerning prayer, Jesus offers a different pattern to those "inthe synagogues and at the street corners". Rather than the grandformalised prayers which are only said to be heard by others (andwhich can be a fault in any tradition), he suggests a relationshipof private prayer - of intimacy and conversation "in your room" (v.6). It is more important that God hears and responds for "yourFather who sees in secret will reward you" (v. 6).

Fasting has always been part of religious life, although muchless so in recent Christian tradition. On the subject John Wesleywrote "the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven,than the man that never prays". But again it depends on how youfast and the motivation behind it. Fasting itself is a means to anend, whether it is be in solidarity and empathy with the hungry ofthe world, or to recognise in a physical way that our body's needfor food is comparable to our need for God. It is not to go aboutsaying how hungry we are (though the quiet rumbling of the stomachis forgivable). Philip Meadows offers some useful reflections onthe practical and devotional aspects of fasting on the Methodist Church's website.

To Ponder

  • Jesus offers three elements of Christian life and discipleship- how might you incorporate these into a way of living throughLent?
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