New Testament in 6 months – day 4

4 Apr

Matthew 6:1-34
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think 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. This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

2 themes arise from this chapter.

The first is the idea of how we should go about our “acts of righteousness”. Jesus talks about giving, prayer and fasting, 3 of the biggies as far as religious observance went at the time. With all 3 He makes the point that it should be something between you and God, not something that you publicise.
It struck me that life currently is such an anathema to that idea. Look at, for example, the Wikipedia page of Brad Pitt. We see very clearly in the “personal life” section that the things that he does are used to increase the positive public perception of him. For example “Pitt’s publicist announced in December 2005 that Pitt was seeking to legally adopt Jolie’s two children”. Pitt gets a publicist to tell the world media that he is adopting the kids. This is just 1 example of many in our celebrity-obsessed culture and it has got to the point where people seem to be appearing in the spotlight for the most ridiculous things and then aiming to stay there by publicising everything they do, particularly if it shows them in a good light.
Compare that to this video (click here)
Here is a family, who are friends of my family, who are talking about what they are doing for the sake of others. They are on TV as a one-off and are explaining their reasoning, rather than seeking publicity for themselves.
And the real shame is that this video with it’s important message is unlikely to be seen by many, whereas the publicity machines for the celebrity culture will carry on getting the headlines and column inches for things far less worthy and almost certainly less sincere!
How have we fallen so far from the path pointed for us? And the 2 important questions that have to be asked is these:
Do we encourage it?
Do we take part in it?
A truly righteous life needs to find the Godly medium between doing it in secret and allowing people to see our good works (see yesterday’s reading).

The second theme is that of not worrying. It first comes out in Jesus saying not to store up things on earth and then moves on to talking about he we should seek out God’s kingdom and then from that everything else will flow.
The idea storing things on earth is another area that is highly favoured by our culture. The desire to have things for the sake of having them. To be able to show how much stuff we have to others. The bling culture that we so often see on TV with programmes like Pimp My Ride and Cribs, or just with the number of bits of shiny metal that are worn by a person in the form of necklaces, rings, watches, bracelets, earrings (and other piercings) and so on. But where does it get us? All it does is make us worry about “Keeping up with the Jones'” and what new thing are we going to get next. Why? After all, as Jesus points out, “moth and rust destroy… thieves break in and steal.” It won’t last.
But then Jesus goes one further and says that we shouldn’t worry about the essentials either, the things that help us to carry on living. And the reasoning is very clear, that our first thought should be towards our relationship with God. If we seek God and aim to live our lives according to His will then everything else is going to be fine. Unfortunately some people read this and think that this means that if we don’t have everything that we need then it is because we are not living a Godly life, or that if we do live a Godly life then we will be “blessed” with worldly riches. But I don’t think that this is anywhere close to what Jesus is saying.
We see in Matthew 26:11 that Jesus tells the disciples that the poor will always be with us. If this is true, then it means that people will always be struggling with famine and starvation, no matter how much we try to help. However, if those who are struggling know God and live according His will then the outcome of the suffering doesn’t matter, because they will be eternally satisfied.
People can go their whole lives not knowing pain, suffering, hunger or fear. And yet, if they don’t know God then it is all for nothing. More than anything else we need to know the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. And after that the most important thing is to share Him around!


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Archbishop Cranmer

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