Lectio Divina: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
1) Opening prayer
our hope and our strength,
without You we falter.
Help us to follow Christ
and to live according to Your will.
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
• The Gospel of today continues the meditation on the Sermon on the Mount. In the previous days we have reflected at length on the message of chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. In today’s Gospel, and the following days, we meditate on the message of chapter 6 of this Gospel. The sequence of chapters 5 and 6 can help us to understand it. The following is the schema:
Matthew 5:13-12: The Beatitudes: solemn opening of the new Law
Matthew 5:13-16: The new presence in the world: Salt of the earth and light of the world
Matthew 5:17-19: The new practice of justice; relationship with the ancient law
Matthew 5:20-48: The new practice of justice: observing the new Law.
Matthew 6:1-4: The new practice of piety: alms
Matthew 6:5-15: The new practice of the works of piety: prayer
Matthew 6:16-18: The new practice of the works of piety: fasting
Matthew 6:19-21: New relationship to material goods: do not accumulate
Matthew 6:22-23: New relationship to material goods: correct vision
Matthew 6:24: New relationship to material goods: God and money
Matthew 6:25-34: New relationship to material goods: abandonment to Providence.
Today’s Gospel treats three themes: almsgiving (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-6) and fasting (6:16-18). These are three works of piety of the Jews.
• Matthew 6:1: Be careful not to parade your uprightness to attract attention. Jesus criticizes those who do good works to be seen by others (Mt 6:1). Jesus says to build up interior security not in what we do for God, but in what God does for us. From the advice that He gives comes a new type of relationship with God: “Your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you” (Mt 6:4). "Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). "If you forgive others their failings, your heavenly Father will forgive your failings” (Mt 6:14). It is a new way which opens itself now to have access to the heart of God our Father. Jesus does not allow the practice of justice and piety to be used as a means for self promotion before God and before the community (Mt 6:2,5,16).
• Matthew 6:2-4: How to practice almsgiving. To give alms is a way of sharing, and highly recommended by the first Christians (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). The person who practices almsgiving and sharing to promote themselves before others merits exclusion from the community, as it happened to Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). Today, in society as well as in the Church, there are people who make great publicity of the good that they do for others. Jesus asks the contrary: do good in such a way that the left hand does not know what the right hand does. It is the total detachment and the total gift in total gratuity of the love which believes in God the Father and imitates all that He does.
• Matthew 6:5-6: How to practice prayer. Prayer places the person in direct relationship with God. Some Pharisees transformed prayer into an occasion to show themselves before others. At that time, when the trumpet sounded at the three moments of prayer; morning, noon and evening, they should stop where they were to pray. There were people who sought to be in the corners in public places, in such a way that everybody would see that they were praying. Well, such an attitude perverts our relationship with God. This is false and has no sense. This is why Jesus says that it is better to close up ourselves in our rooms to pray in secret, maintaining the authenticity of the relationship. God sees you even in secret, and He always listens to you. It is a question of a personal prayer, not of a community prayer.
• Matthew 6:16-18: How to practice fasting. At that time the practice of fasting was accompanied by some very visible external gestures: not to wash one’s face, not to comb one’s hair, to wear sober dress. These were visible signs of fasting. Jesus criticizes this form of fasting and orders the contrary, so others cannot be aware that you are fasting: bathe, use perfume, and comb your hair well. In this way, only your Father who sees in secret knows that you are fasting and He will reward you.
4) Personal questions
• When you pray where others can see you, such as at Mass, do you make a show of your praying, or do you do it humbly and without grand showy gestures?
• When you give or help someone, either at the collection, or on the street, or near others, do you talk louder or make a show of it, or do you become quieter and more private with the other person?
• It is rare these days that anyone fasts and also goes out in the manner Jesus describes. But, we have other ways to do that. When giving, or doing some manner of sacrifice for others, do you complain, or groan to others about it, or give subtle clues that you are doing this thing?
5) Concluding Prayer
Yahweh, what quantities of good things You have in store
for those who fear You,
and bestow on those who make You their refuge,
for all humanity to see. (Ps 31:19)