This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
CHRISTIAN NETWORKS TELL POPE: LISTEN TO THE CHURCH, NOT JUST CARDINALS
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
6 “Beware of doing your good deeds conspicuously to catch men’s eyes or you will miss the reward of your Heavenly Father.
2-4 “So, when you do good to other people, don’t hire a trumpeter to go in front of you—like those play-actors in the synagogues and streets who make sure that men admire them. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get! No, when you give to charity, don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be secret. Your Father who knows all secrets will reward you.
5-13 “And then, when you pray, don’t be like the play-actors. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street-corners so that people may see them at it. Believe me, they have had all the reward they are going to get. But when you pray, go into your own room, shut your door and pray to your Father privately. Your Father who sees all private things will reward you. And when you pray don’t rattle off long prayers like the pagans who think they will be heard because they use so many words. Don’t be like them. After all, God, who is your Father, knows your needs before you ask him. Pray then like this—‘Our Heavenly Father, may your name be honoured; May your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day the bread we need, Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us. Keep us clear of temptation, and save us from evil’.”
14-15 “For if you forgive other people their failures, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you will not forgive other people, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive you your failures.”
16-18 “Then, when you fast, don’t look like those miserable play-actors! For they deliberately disfigure their faces so that people may see that they are fasting. Believe me, they have had all their reward. No, when you fast, brush your hair and wash your face so that nobody knows that you are fasting—let it be a secret between you and your Father. And your Father who knows all secrets will reward you.
Well, yes, there’s so much truth in these lines it’s hard to know where to begin. Perhaps it’s best to get to the heart of the matter. Jesus teaches that the life of his disciples is not religious; that is, it’s not an outward manifestation of belief; it’s almost the opposite: the actions which flow from belief are to be concealed, because then and only then do they express love for God and one’s neighbour. Secret charity expresses love of neighbour, while secret prayer and fasting express love of God. Genuine love must not be prostituted for public approval. The conviction that other people are my neighbours and that the nothingness beyond me is God, cannot be proven although it is not irrational.
This “secret discipline”, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr called it, can also be seen in Jesus’ life. When he prays, he goes off to a secret place; when he heals people he tells them not to speak about it to others. He is motivated by compassion for people and by an intimate love of God. As soon as people start looking over their shoulders when doing good or relating to God, their actions lose the smack of truth, but Jesus is focused simply on God and his neighbour.
Can there be no worthwhile public acknowledgement of this faith? Yes, the community can express its faith indirectly, by symbols that remind believers of the truth and give non-believers a pointer to where truth may be found. Sacraments, hymn singing, public prayer, visual art, dance, and silence above all, may be used, but as soon as they become ends in themselves, especially if they arrogate to themselves the title of holiness, they fall under Jesus’ criticism of “hypocrites” a word which in Jesus’ time retained its original meaning of “play-actor” (as above verse 5). For Jesus hypocrisy meant play-acting, an evasion of God and the neighbour rather than an encounter with them.
Christianity has developed as a religion, with lots of public show, sloppy emotionalism, rigid liturgy and so on. It cannot legitimately hide from this teaching of Jesus.
I’ve written recently on the Lord’s Prayer,(bible blog 1001) and will not add more today.