Category: Casual Commentary

January 20, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

The Lord’s Prayer vv. 9-13

There are so many excellent works on The Lord’s Prayer that anything I write may seem redundant. But, here in the twenty-first century it doesn’t hurt to take another look. Our “internet culture” has its own lens.

First of all, a general analysis sees seven areas of focus in the prayer:
1. God’s nature
2. God’s kingdom
3. God’s will
4. Daily needs
5. Forgiveness
6. Testing
7. Deliverance from evil

It covers all the bases.

January 13, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

General Comments on Prayer vv.5-8

I wonder if Jesus was thinking of Ecclesiastes 5:2 at this point: “God is in heaven and you upon earth, therefore let your words be few.” It is clear that prayer has little to do with volume, public visibility, or pious repetitions. Nor does it function as an information bureau (“who can instruct the Lord as his counsellor?” Is. 40:13). Rather, it is secret, intimate and more about listening than talking. It’s a time to hear the Lord speak. So, get into your own room, close the door, and be quiet.

Remember, “your Father knows what you need before you ask.” He is not, nor will he ever be, a means to our own ends. Prayer is a two-way conversation — mostly “his” way.

January 6, 2021

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

How NOT to Give vv. 2-4 Part 3

As is often the case with language and culture there is a blurring of the lines over time. For example, the “Pharisees” and the “Sadducees” emerged as differing religious sub-cultures in the latter half of the second century before Christ. Their sectarian DNA, however, can be seen as far back as the return of the exiles from Babylon around 537 BC. Once situated again in Judea, they became known as the “Hasideans” and the “Hellenizers”. The Hasideans (or “Hasids” as they are known to this day in modern Israel) were focused on strict adherence to the Law of Moses (and the oral tradition known as the Talmud), while the Hellenizers (or, “Sadducees” as they were later known) were committed to liberalizing Judaism and assimilating the values of Greek culture. The Sadducees essentially were a political sect, the Hasidim (“Pious Ones”) a religious. But there was one issue that found them in agreement: they both felt threatened by Jesus. His life and teaching was antithetical to theirs, and in their world of theological and moral absolutes Jesus was not just counter-culture, he was dangerous. “What if the whole world goes after him?” they spluttered. “He’s got to be stopped.”

So, while the “trumpeted” their alms, Jesus called for total secrecy. His word about the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing is intriguing. It may have been a proverbial statement, but it could have referred to the Jewish practice of offering gifts at the altar in the Temple with the right hand. The best instincts of the soul were seen as “right-handed”, while the more pedestrian inclinations were seen as “left-handed”. So there should be no mix of motives in charity, says Jesus. Keep your gifts “close to the chest”. When you do, your omniscient Father will take notice. Any “reward” is up to Him.

December 30, 2020

Alms, Prayer, & Fasting 6:1-18

How NOT to Give vv. 2-4 Part 2

This secrecy in giving presents a bit of a conundrum, however. Elsewhere Jesus instructs us to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” How does one do both? Secret and open at the same time? Seems undoable. Many theologians agree that what Jesus is saying is that we should be open in our love for neighbour but indifferent to their praise or even their opinion. When we give, we give “as unto the Lord”. Or, as one of the theological thinkers put it, “show when tempted to hide; hide when tempted to show.” The endgame of the process is glory to God.

“Hypocrites” steal glory from God. They relish public recognition. Jesus had a dim view of them.

The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek “pharisaios”. In turn the Greek root has an etymological parent in the Aramaic word “Pera” meaning “to separate”. But there are added nuances to the word – for instance, a hypocrite could be an actor in a Greek play, playing a part, feigning a personality or character that was not his own.