26 February 2020

The First Sunday in Lent, 1 March 2020

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
St. Matthew 4:1-11

During this Lententide, I shall devote this segment of the blog to quotations that might give depth and a reflective quality for the readings for this day.

Elaine Pagels in her book, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, muses on the theology of Saint Augustin and his thoughts on temptation and free will. What are your thoughts?

“The desire to master one’s will, far from expressing what Origen, Clement, and Chrysostom consider the true nature of rational beings, becomes for Augustine the great and fatal temptation: ‘The fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is personal control over one’s own will’ (proprium voluntatis arbitrium). Augustine cannot resist reading that desire for self-government as total, obstinate perversity: ‘The soul, then, delighting in its own freedom to do wickedness, and scorning to serve God … willfully deserted its higher master.’ Seduced by this desire for autonomy, Adam entered into a ‘life of cruel and wretched slavery instead of the freedom for which he had conceived a desire.’”[1]

First Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

The Lectionary takes some introductory notes from the second creation story, so that the story of fall is told in the context of the proviso that God gives Adam at the beginning of humankind’s experience in the garden. In this story we encounter an unusual linguistic usage, the merism which takes two opposites, such as “good” and “evil” and pairs them to create a more general meaning, in this case “everything.” There examples of this usage in Egyptian and Greek literature. Such an understanding changes how we might view the tree in the story and its moral import. Perhaps it is not the knowledge so much that tempted Adam and Eve, but rather to test the bounds of the divine will – as any child does with a parent.

There is, however, another character in this tale – the serpent. The simplicity of the “Tree of the Knowledge of Everything”, will become complicated by Eve expanding the prohibition to include “touching” and by the Serpent’s casting a wider misunderstanding, “You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?” It constructs a matrix of confusion and misunderstanding that allows for sin, an act in defiance of God’s will. In a way this story sets up a background for the desire of many things in human history. That desire, and you may take this erotically as well, will lead to both the higher sciences, and to depravity. Its complicated background will be used in Matthew’s account of the Temptation of Jesus.

Breaking open Genesis:

1.        How can knowledge be a temptation?
2.        What in contemporary life tempts you?
3.        Who is responsible for temptation?

Psalm 32 Beati quorum

     Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, *
and whose sin is put away!
     Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, *
and in whose spirit there is no guile!
     While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, *
because of my groaning all day long.
     For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; *
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.
     Then I acknowledged my sin to you, *
and did not conceal my guilt.
     I said," I will confess my transgressions to the Lord." *
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.
     Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.
     You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
     "I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.
10    Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; *
who must be fitted with bit and bridle,
or else they will not stay near you."
11    Great are the tribulations of the wicked; *
but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.
12    Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; *
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

The psalmist muses about the problem of sin. In a psalm of thanksgiving, there are elements of confession, forgiveness, and from the eighth verse on, wisdom. Happiness and blessedness are seen in transgressions that have been forgiven. The view we are given here is a broad spectrum that extends from commission to forgiveness and a life of thanksgiving. The verses on the effect of sin (3-4) are almost picturesque in their descriptions: the held tongue, the withered bones, the groaning, the heavy hand, the dried-up moisture. The reader can identify with the situation. At the fifth and sixth verses the situation changes to one of confession and candor. The latter part of the seventh verse makes reference to the deadly nature of “the waters”, a Hebrew reference to death. 

Verse 8 changes the point of view with a series of observations worthy of Wisdom Literature. The proverbs about how to perceive God, and how to live with God’s forgiveness are brief tidbits of remembrance about how to act and live and learn. All of this gives not only wisdom, but joy as well.

Breaking open Psalm 32:
  1. What does sin mean to you?
  2. Where do you see sin in your life?
  3. What do you do about that?

Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19

As sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned-- sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man's trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of the one man's trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.

You may want to read the first eleven verses of the Fifth Chapter of Romans so as to understand Paul’s leap from the forgiveness offered to sinners, to the history of sin, as it were, that encompasses our reading for today. Paul lifts up Adam and his sin, so that he can lift up another man, Jesus, and the redemption that comes from his suffering and death. In such a comparison, all are included – in Adam’s fall, and in the exaltation of Jesus. It is a simple lesson, that doesn’t require a great of commentary. The final verse says it all. “For just as by one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

Breaking open Romans:
  1. Where in your life are like Adam or Eve?
  2. Where in your life are you like Christ?
  3. What thoughts come to you in looking at this?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 4:1-11

Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
and ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

‘Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

In the previous chapters Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus, especially seen in the stories about Moses. Like Israel, Jesus goes down into Egypt, like Moses he is threatened with death by the king, and again, like Israel he comes up out of Egypt. With this chapter Jesus faces a different threat – Satan. What we will see in this reading and in many that follow in Matthew is the power of Jesus’ word. I am reminded of the film The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille’s classic rendition of the story of Moses and the Exodus. In that film the pharaoh Seti I often utters, “So it is written, so it shall be done.” Now Jesus is the one with that suasion. Satan tempts him with bread, safety, and power – the stuff we are tempted with every day. Here, however, Jesus counters him with quotations from the Scriptures themselves – Deuteronomy. Jesus’ word is the same word that John lifts up in the prologue of his Gospel, the word that spoke creation into being, and the word that here dismisses the prince of this age. 

Breaking open Gospel:
1.     How do you give alms?
2.     What holy things do you do in secret?
3.     How have you been rewarded?

General Idea               Words

Example I:                   The words of Satan that tempt us (First Reading)

Example 2:                  The words of confession and the words of absolution (Psalm)

Example 3:                  The words of Jesus countering the words of Satan (Gospel)

Finally:                        The acts of Adam are redeemed by the acts of Jesus (Second Reading)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Pagels, E. (1988), Adam, Eve, and the Serpent, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, New York, Kindle Edition, Location 2575.

24 February 2020

Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 Or Isaiah 58:1-22
Psalm 103 Or Psalm 103:8-14
II Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10
St. Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Background:  Ash Wednesday

Mary Claire van Orsdal’s words[1]seem to best express not only the intent of the day but it’s deep purpose as well.  Her vision of our humanity and God’s implicit grace further defines the day.

Whoever on that medieval day
Decided that it had to be ashes
To sign the season, was in touch with death
But he’d forgotten the place of red earth,
Remembered in the gut by those who know
Dirt mixed with the blood of woman giving birth.

The flesh of one so full of hope cries out,
Comes pushing now the growing, wintered well
In her womb, wailing songs of the longing
For life and love and gentleness of green
And a springtime sun to be welcoming 
For us, to warm us out of these our tombs
To bid us light and peace and graciousness.

So we are signed with earth – with death and birth.

First Reading: Joel 2:1-2,12-17

Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
for the day of the LORD is coming, it is near--a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness!
Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes;
their like has never been from of old,
nor will be again after them
in ages to come.

Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the LORD, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing.
Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering
for the LORD, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion;
sanctify a fast;
call a solemn assembly;
gather the people.
Sanctify the congregation;
assemble the aged;
gather the children,
even infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his room,
and the bride her canopy.
Between the vestibule and the altar
let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep.
Let them say, "Spare your people, O LORD,
and do not make your heritage a mockery,
a byword among the nations.
Why should it be said among the peoples,
`Where is their God?'"

Written some time after the dissolution of the northern tribes, and the similar fate visited upon Jerusalem and its temple, this oracle seems to come from some time well into the post-exilic period.  The world has imploded into a small community gathered around a rebuilt temple.  In such a diminished world, Joel’s words have even more power.  Having never witnessed an invasion of locusts, Joel gives to the reader powerful images of destruction, images that hearkened back to the destruction under Assyria and Babylon.  All of this seems to be a stand in for the theological point that the prophet wishes to make.  The visitation by the voracious insects is a sign of the great “Day of the Lord,” a vision that will last for generations to come.

The lectionary skips verses 3 through 16, and then bids us contemplate a “Summons to Prayer and Penance”, an appropriate reading for this day.  Like Jeremiah, who saw the Law written on our hearts, Joel is not satisfied with spiritual understandings of the cult.  “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.”  Though the call has its symbolic aspects, the prophet paints them in tones not only of urgency, but also of reality itself.  There is hope – a hope that God will yet relent from a judgment previous given and seen.  The universality of the call is seen in the list of those who are called to repentance.  Normally in times of difficulty and trouble, these categories within the community would have been dismissed from duty, but here they are specifically called out to attend: children, infants, bridegrooms and brides – all are called to the temple to not only offer but to be an offering of prayer as well.  “Spare your people, O Lord.”  All of this is envisioned as a grand liturgical procession of both priests and peoples united in one intent – the intent of repentance and prayer.

Breaking open Joel:

1.     When have you been called out of life and into prayer?
2.     What about repentance?
3.     Is it only disaster that provides a focus on God?


Isaiah 58:1-12

Thus says the high and lofty one
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD?
Is not this the fast that I choose
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The LORD will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

This reading comes from a collection of post-exilic poems by one of the later Isaiahs.  Its subject is that of fasting, a ritual response both at the time of death within the family or tribe, or at a time of national disaster.  While Joel (see above) in the specific context of a local emergency, this Isaiah describes the practice in more general terms, applicable to any appropriate occasion.  

The prophet is bidden to speak out with a strong voice, with the harsh sounding vocables of the people’s language, to announce a call to the fast.  It is not met well, for the people, confident in their own religious practice, wonder why the prophet is calling upon them, in the name of YHWH, to do more.  Why do we fast, but you do not see?  Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" The prophet’s response could be spoken to our time as well.  In short, he announces that even on these great days of fasting it is business as usual.  The workers are shamefully treated, there are quarrels and fighting, the day is not honored.  Not unlike St. Paul, this Isaiah supplies a list of appropriate behaviors that move beyond ritual observances (bowing, and wearing sackcloth and ashes).  Instead these things must be observed: sharing bread with those who need it, housing the homeless, clothing the naked, and (beautifully put) “and not turning your back on your own flesh.” There is to be a divine interchange between rich and poor, the one supplying substance for living, and the other supplying a patient waiting upon the God of creation.

A final note in the last verses reminds us of when this was written.  “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt.”  Apparently, the city walls are still in ruins, and no temple is mentioned, so it might still be ruined as well.  However, Isaiah does not just mark time here.  In a tight and apt phrase, the prophet once again reminds us of his purpose.  “You shall be called the repairer of the breach.”  It is one thing to restore the city, and another to restore the common family engendered by the God of Israel. Beyond that there is the purpose of  “restoring the breach” between God and the community itself.  Isn’t it interesting?  Fasting is tied to feeding, clothing, and healing.  It is a shared suffering and a shared feast.

Breaking open Isaiah:

1.     Do you ever fast?  Why or why not?
2.     Do you give up something for Lent?  Why?
3.     Do you give to others when you fast?

Psalm 103 or 103:8-14 Benedic, anima mea

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the LORD, O my soul, *
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins *
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave *
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things, *
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.

The LORD executes righteousness *
and judgment for all who are oppressed.

He made his ways known to Moses *
and his works to the children of Israel.

The LORD is full of compassion and mercy, *
slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us, *
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, *
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

For as the heavens are high above the earth, *
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west, *
so far has he removed our sins from us.

As a father cares for his children, *
so does the LORD care for those who fear him.

For he himself knows whereof we are made; *
he remembers that we are but dust.

Our days are like the grass; *
we flourish like a flower of the field;

When the wind goes over it, it is gone, *
and its place shall know it no more.

But the merciful goodness of the LORD endures for ever on those who fear him, *
and his righteousness on children's children;

On those who keep his covenant *
and remember his commandments and do them.

The LORD has set his throne in heaven, *
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the LORD, you angels of his,
you mighty ones who do his bidding, *
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the LORD, all you his hosts, *
you ministers of his who do his will.

Bless the LORD, all you works of his,
in all places of his dominion; *
bless the LORD, O my soul.

This psalm begins with an interior thought, that the faithful person should bless God from the center of his or her very existence.  That is the intent of “O my soul”, but the Hebrew is of a much more profound and existential nature.  This point of blessing, deep in our very selves, soon expands into a much greater continuum.  First, however, the author reviews why we are called to bless YHWH in the first place.  The verbs help us: who forgives, who heals, who redeems, who crowns, who satisfies, who renews.  These are the righteous acts that God performs in our midst.  The psalmist calls to mind the prophet Moses (see Exodus 34:6) who realizes God’s compassion and mercy.  The relationship of God and God’s people is one of forgetting, “God nurses no lasting anger.”  

In expansion of our consideration of God’s mercy, the psalmist expands time and space itself, “For as the heavens tower over the earth…As far as the east is from the west…so far has (God) removed our sins from us.”  We have the advantage, as a modern people, to know well the images that the psalmist draws for us.  It is our privilege to know a vision of millions of galaxies, and the unimaginable distance they are from us and from one another.  “So far has (God) removed our sins from us.”  Other examples are invoked, the love of a parent for a child, of the Creator for the created.  God knows the place from which we come, “recalls that we are dust”, and knows our “devisings” and the intent of our hearts.  None-the-less, God is the one whose kindness is forever and ever.  

The final vision is of God enthroned in the heavens, which all are called upon to bless:  God’s messengers (you angels of (God’s), God’s armies (hosts), and all (God’s) works.  Then all implodes back to the self, “Bless, O my being, the Lord!”

Breaking open Psalm 103:
  1. Are there things for which you have not forgiven yourself?  What?
  2. Are there things that you think God will not forgive for you?  What?
  3. How great has God’s mercy been for you?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see-- we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul announces his theme in the final verses of chapter 5, “be reconciled to God.” This has been both the theme in Joel and in the later Isaiah.  Paul underscores this theme with an understanding of what God has done for us in Jesus, “for our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin.”  If Joel had an understanding of the “Great Day of YHWH,” Paul has a different, and his mind a more complete vision of that day.  “At an acceptable time…on a day of salvation.”  Paul sees a God that not only listens to us, but works with us as well.  Then, in typical Pauline fashion, he supplies us with lists.  The first is a record of his own working with God, “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings,” and so on.  Paul wants his audience to know the level of his cooperation in the ministry given to them.  The final list, of paradoxes, shows the results of the favor that God shows to us through Jesus, “imposters – true, unknown – well known, dying – alive” and so the comparisons go on, giving full scope to our expectations regarding salvation.  The final condition of “having nothing and yet possessing everything,” serves as an excellent summary of God’s action, Jesus’ offering, and Paul’s (and even our own) ministry.

Breaking open II Corinthians:
  1. Has your faith caused you some the afflictions that Paul mentions?  Which?
  2. How did these events strengthen your faith?
  3. What are some off the paradoxes of faith in your life?

Gospel: St. Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

Jesus said, "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.

"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

When I was a child, this text was used as a weapon against Roman Catholics, who were seen as “practicing their piety before others.”  It was the log in our own eye that evaded us, and kept us from seeing the whole family of God.  So Jesus seeks to bless us with an understanding of how to give alms.  In our society, talk of money and generosity is avoided at all costs, so we need to listen even more deeply to Jesus’ instruction.  In the Talmud, the Baba Bathra, gives us some direction similar to Jesus’ instruction to keep things “secret”.  “One who does alms in secret is greater than Moses our teacher.”  God, however, sees all, even those things done in secret.  God will reward.

Two more instructions follow in our pericope: one on Fasting (verses 16-18) and one on Wealth (verses 19-21).  There is a usage here that reminds us of Luke’s version of the Beatitudes“I tell you that they already have their reward.”  Fasting shown in the face of others has a limited return.  Fasting, like the giving of alms is done in secret, and will have its own reward.  The section on wealth follows the New Testament’s constant theme of putting off worldly goods.  Other passages about concern for daily matters as detractive in our relationship with God are common in Jesus’ teaching.  It is interesting to note the similarity of certain Greek stoics with Jesus’ teaching here, such as: “Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things”[2] If things become our heart and our mind, we will have distanced ourselves from God.

Breaking open Gospel:
1.     How do you give alms?
2.     What holy things do you do in secret?
3.     How have you been rewarded?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Baker, J., Kaehler, E., and Mazar, P., (1990), A Lent Sourcebook The Forty Days, Liturgy    Training Publications, Chicago, page 20. 
[2]Epictitus, (55 – 135 CE), Enciridion.