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Saturday, October 5, 2013
Today’s Reading | Matthew 6:1–8
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever 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.
“When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (NRSV)
There is a fine line between avoiding hypocrisy and retreating into an overly privatized practice of faith.
In this section of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is warning his followers to avoid the pitfalls of the “hypocrites” who go to great lengths to make their expressions of faith known to the public. In contemporary parlance we talk about people who “wear their religion on their sleeve.” Sometimes such people are sincere; sometimes they are only using public expressions of Christian faith to advance an agenda.
While we are right to avoid this kind of showy faith, especially when it is disingenuous, we shouldn’t make the common mistake of concluding that faith is therefore a private matter that only involves an individual and God. The entirety of the Bible bears witness to a kind of faith that is at the same time deeply personal and deeply integrated into how we engage our shared experience of the public arena. Sincere faith should always inform how we interact with others and how we participate in the public nature of a democratic society like ours.
Jesus was clearly committed to encouraging us to live public lives that reflect the gospel and God’s love for the world. Here he counsels us to support our public acts of witness with private and sincere acts of spiritual devotion.
Loving God, strip me of religious pride and acts of “faith” that only draw attention to myself. Fill me instead, in the secret moments we share, with wisdom and courage to live as Christ lived. Amen.
Written by John Vest, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
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