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Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18 (NIV)
(Jesus continued,) 1 “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.
2 “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 honoured by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
5 “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. 6 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.”
16 “When you fast, do not look sombre 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. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 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.”
In this passage, Jesus challenged the hypocrites. He knew what was behind their hypocrisy. He can see through any hypocrisy and through the foolishness of humans who think they can “trick” God!
Jesus can see through the masks that humans adopt and behind which some try to hide. Recall the passage from John’s Gospel, “Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person” (John 2: 24-25).
Jesus referred to traditional expressions of Jewish piety: giving to the needy, prayer and fasting. His reference to these was deliberate. But his overall message was clear: “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” (verse 1). Jesus taught that his followers are not to give to the needy, to pray and to fast just to impress other people. The purpose of these expressions of Jewish piety is not to gain kudos for oneself. The purpose is to honour God. God is the only one who sees all. God is the only the one who needs to see all.
How much easier it would be to live as God’s people if each one of us sets out deliberately to do what is pleasing to God and only what is pleasing to God.
Let us all resolve to be honest to God this Lent. If we make vows, let us make vows that honour him and only him. Let us do this prayerfully so that there is no self-deception and so that we are not working to any alternative agenda.
Be conscious of your motives through this Lenten season. Jettison that which is not of God and hold fast to whatever will bring honour and glory to him.