Matthew 6: The Externals of Religion
Chapter 6 of Matthew deals with the external part of religion. We have seen in chapter 5 that the King speaks of the justice which His subjects must possess. It must be a justice that exceed the justice of the scribes and Pharisees, and that comes only through trust in Christ.
In chapter 6 Saint Matthew talks about the justice that the subjects of the kingdom are to practice. The motive, of course, is the important thing in what you do for God. No third party can enter into this relationship. These things are between the soul and God.
The items mentioned in this chapter-the giving of alms, prayer, fasting, money, and taking thought and care for the future are very practical considerations.
First, our Lord talks about alms. Keep in mind that all of this has to do with externalities of religion or with ostentation in religion. By ostentation we mean pretentious display, of something, intended to impress or attract notice.
Take heed that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them: otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven. [Matthew 6:1].
Though the Lord Jesus is directing His remarks to the subjects of His coming kingdom, His remarks are for us as well. For though His earthly Kingdom is not here yet, He says that the “For lo, the kingdom of God is within you.” [Luke 17:21] So there is a great principle here for you and me as well as for at the end times when he shall literally rule and reign.
Therefore when thou dost an almsdeed, sound not a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honoured by men. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. [Matthew 6:2]
He is saying this with biting irony. Believe me, Jesus new how to use sarcasm!
When the Pharisees wanted to give something to the poor, it was their custom to go down to a busy street corner in Jerusalem and blow a trumpet. Although the purpose was to call the poor and needy together to receive the gifts, it afforded a fine opportunity to let others see their good works. Do you see parallels today in the way some Christians give? Our Lord said that when the Pharisees do it that way, they have their reward. What was their reward? Well, what was it that they were after? Jesus said they did it to have glory of men. They blew the trumpet, and everybody came running out to see how generously they gave, and that was their reward. Their giving was not between themselves and God.
Now, why do you give? There is more than one way to give. Several years ago I saw where they would take an offering in a certain religious organization. The one taking up the offering was to be sure and give everybody an opportunity to stand up and tell how much he would give. For example, It was said, "How many will give one hundred dollars?" So the question is "Why in the world do you take an offering like that?" It was told that a certain man would attend who would give only one dollar if a regular offering was taken. However, if the question of how many would give one hundred dollars was asked, he would give that amount. May I say that he blew a trumpet.
There are other people who give large checks but want to hand them to you personally. There are those in the Parishes who will give a priest a check before Mass. They think this would excite the priest enough so that the priest would mention it.
One time A friend of such a person came to the priest one day and said, "So-and-so is disturbed." He went on to explain that I did not acknowledge the very large check his friend had given last Sunday. "That's right," the priest said, and told this man the reason why. "Your friend is a man of means and the check he gave, in relationship to what he has, wasn't very much. Last Sunday another man who made less money also handed me an envelope. He didn't want me to open it until after the Mass and did not want me to say a word to anyone about it. He gave me almost twice as much money as the man of means did. If I were going to acknowledge anybody, it would have to be the second man but he didn't want me to do that."
May I say to you that giving is between you and God, and the very minute you get a third party involved, you don't get any credit in heaven.
There is a lot of so-called Christian giving today that isn't giving at all. For example, there are Parishes I have been to who played on human nature. While I was a parishioner there, beautiful architectural plans were drawn up for a new building to be put for offices and times of fellowship. It was modestly announced that the new building would be named after the donor. At least a half dozen people wanted their names on that tower. Today it is called "So and-so Fellowship Hall" in honor of a certain man. His name is carved in stone which means that his trumpet is being blown all the time. A lot of people give like that. This kind of giving is worth nothing before God.
But when thou dost alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. That thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee. [Matthew 6:3-4].
Don't reach in your pocket with one hand and then put the other hand in the air to let people know how much you are giving! Our Lord is saying that when you put your hand in your pocket to get something to give, be so secretive about it that the other hand doesn't know what you are doing. All of this is biting sarcasm.
Now lets look at the marks of prayer that Jesus gives.
And when ye pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, that love to stand and pray in the synagogues and corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men: Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. [Matthew 6:5].
"You should not be as the hypocrites" Our Lord used strong language, didn't He! He goes on and says "They have their reward." They pray so that they may be seen of men. A man might pray a fancy prayer trying to sound real holy, so as to advertise that he is great at praying. Or maybe the only time he or she prays is in public but actually never prays in private. Many times they brag with false humility how they pray all the decades of the rosary every day. Jesus said that when a man prays like that, he has his reward. He gets what he wants-that is, to be seen of men. But his prayer never gets above the rafters of the building.
But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly [Matthew 6:6].
The concept we are dealing with here is revolutionary. Did you notice that the Lord uses the term Father? These are citizens of the kingdom that the Lord is talking about. How do you become a child of God today? It begins with what John 1:12 tells us: "But as many as received him, he gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in his name." That is only the beginning. Our Lord said to Nicodemus, "Amen, amen I say to thee, unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." (see John 3)--until you do those to things, receive and believe on his name, and be born again in baptism, you can't call God your Father. And in the Old Testament you will not find the word Father used in relation to a man with God. The nation Israel as a whole was called by God, "... Israel is my son ..." (Exodus 4:22), but not an individual. The Lord Jesus is speaking of a new relationship.
Concerning the subject of prayer, we are told that it should be secret and sincere. Many an unknown saint of God will be revealed as a real person of prayer at the judgment seat of Christ, what we as Catholics call the general judgment.
And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in their much speaking they may be heard. [Matthew 6:7].
One must pray from a heart of repentance and submission to God’s will. But does Jesus mean to exclude the possibility of devotions like the Rosary or the Divine Mercy Chaplet which repeat prayers? No, he does not.
Tim Staples, a Novice ordo Catholic apologist for Catholic Answers, had some great words to say explaining Matthew 6:7
“Consider the prayers of the angels in Revelation 4:8:
And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within, and day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
These “four living creatures” refer back to four angels, or “Seraphim,” that Isaiah saw as revealed in Isaiah 6:1-3 about 800 years earlier, and guess what they were praying?
In the year that King Uzzi’ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Someone needs to inform these angels about “vain repetition!” According to many of our Protestant friends, especially Fundamentalists, they need to knock it off and pray something different! They’d been praying like that for ca. 800 years!
I say that tongue and cheek, of course, because though we don’t understand fully “time” as it applies to angels, let’s just say they have been praying this way for a lot longer than just 800 years. How about longer than mankind has even existed! That’s a long time! There is obviously something more to Jesus’ words than just to say we should not pray the same words more than once or twice.
I challenge those skeptical of prayers like the Rosary to take a serious look at Psalm 136 and consider the fact that Jews and Christians have prayed these Psalms for thousands of years. Psalm 136 repeats the words “for his steadfast love endures for ever” 26 times in 26 verses!
Perhaps most importantly, we have Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in Mark 14:32-39:
And they went to a place which was called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I pray.” And the took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this chalice from me; yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, ”Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again, he came and found them sleeping… And he came a third time, and said to them, “Are you still sleeping…?”
Our Lord was here praying for hours and saying "the same words." Is this “vain repetition?”
And not only do we have our Lord praying repetitious prayer, but he also commends it.
In Luke 18:1-14, we read:
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, "In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, "Vindicate me against my adversary." For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, "Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming." And the Lord said, "Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?" He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, "God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get. "But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, "God, be merciful to me a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."
Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him [Matthew 6:8].
Prayer should be marked by sincerity and simplicity:
1. Sincerity-Matthew 6:6 Go in and close the door-your prayer is between you and God.
2. Simplicity-Matthew 6:7. Get right down to the nitty gritty and tell the Lord what you have on your mind. "Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him" v. 8. Even though He already knows what we need, He wants us to come to Him and ask.