Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

1 ”(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.2 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.3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,4 so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.5 “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.6 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.

[not part of the daily Mass gospel] 7 In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.8 Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.9 “This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.11 Give us today our daily bread;12 and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors;13 and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.14 If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.15 But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

16 “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.17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,18 so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you. (Matthew 6:1–18)

Context. Often this passage is considered in and of itself and the reader might not understand that this is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (5:1-7:29). Jesus has begun to preach in Galilee, as Scripture foretold (4:12–17), and large crowds are being attracted to his teaching (4:23–25). Matthew now presents a lengthy collection of that authoritative teaching. A parallel collection of his authoritative deeds will follow in chapters 8–9. But the teaching is addressed, initially at least, not to the crowds, but rather to the narrower circle of his committed disciples, to whom we have been introduced in 4:18–22, and who are now taken apart from the crowds to be instructed on what their new commitment involves. The focus of these chapters is not then the wider proclamation of the “good news of the kingdom,” (4:23) but the instruction of those who have already responded to that proclamation, and now need to learn what life in the “kingdom of heaven” is really about. The teaching will frequently describe them as a special group who stand over against, and indeed are persecuted by, people in general. They are those who have entered into a new relationship with “your Father in heaven,” and who in consequence are called to a radically new lifestyle, in conscious distinction from the norms of the rest of society.  R.T. France thinks that this Matthean discourse would be better known as the “Discourse on Discipleship” so people understand that this is not a general code of ethics but rather the specific demands of the kingdom of heaven.

Commentary. The last main section of the “Sermon on the Mount” (…or Discourse on Discipleship) focuses on setting out a “righteousness” greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees (5:20). The discourse now goes on to warn against a wrong kind of “righteousness” (6:1), which is undertaken not to conform to the will of God and to imitate his perfection, but to gain human approval. The people who practice this kind of righteousness are described as “hypocrites,” a term which occurs frequently in Matthew for the official (or self-appointed) representatives of religion. The moniker will be applied six times in Mt 23 for the scribes and Pharisees. Some of the failings with which the scribes and Pharisees will be charged focus on a similar concern for externals and lack of inward depth. The contrast with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees which underlay 5:20–48 is thus continued in this passage; the disciples are not to be like them. But the focus has moved from ethical distinctives to the practice of religion, the “righteousness” of 6:1 being not so much a moral orientation as a religious one, practical piety.

The basic framework of the passage is an introductory exhortation (..take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father; v.1) illustrated by three matching contrasts (vv. 2–4, 5–6, 16–18) setting out the wrong and the right way to undertake three prominent religious duties, alms-giving, prayer and fasting. The wording of the three contrasts follows a standard pattern: “do not be like the hypocrites or behave like them…but when you…”  This is followed by concluding clauses (“Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward” … “may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you”).

The wrong way in each case is a matter of outward show, looking for human approval; the right way is that of secrecy, which only God can see. It is only the latter kind of “righteousness” that God, who is strikingly described as “being in secret,” will reward, whereas the brazen piety of the hypocrites has received the only reward it will get (and is looking for), the approval of other people.

This carefully balanced tripartite unit of teaching is, however, interrupted in vv. 7–15 by an extended discussion of prayer, consisting of (a) a further wrong way / right way contrast (vv. 7–8), (b) the pattern prayer (vv. 9–13) and (c) a pastoral comment on one clause of the pattern prayer (vv. 14–15). Matthew has apparently decided that the subject of true prayer is too important to be passed over as briefly as alms-giving and fasting and so has inserted other sayings material on the subject, parts (b) and (c) of which have rough parallels in different contexts in Luke 11:2–4 and Mark 11:25.

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