March 8, 2000

Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

When you do good deeds, don't try to show off. If you do, you won't get a reward from your Father in heaven.

When you give to the poor, don't blow a loud horn. That's what showoffs do in the meeting places and on the street corners, because they are always looking for praise. I can assure you that they already have their reward.

When you give to the poor, don't let anyone know about it. Then your gift will be given in secret. Your Father knows what is done in secret, and he will reward you.

When you pray, don't be like those showoffs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. I can assure you that they already have their reward.

[verses 7-15 are about the prayer Jesus taught his disciples]

When you go without eating, don't try to look gloomy as those showoffs do when they go without eating. I can assure you that they already have their reward. Instead, comb your hair and wash your face. then others won't know that you are going without eating. But your Father sees what is done in private, and he will reward you.

Don't store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.


1. A repeated word here is "showoff." This is the basis of hypocrisy. Just shading the truth enough so we can look good in the eyes of whatever peer group of which we desire to be a part.

2. There is a structural pattern here that might suggest the source of our ability to not play the showoff game revolves around prayer. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples has long been used as a model prayer to aid us in holy living, of transforming our lives to simply let our lives be our lives without having to embellish them with showing off.

3. As we enter these next 40 days (not counting Sundays as they are a reminder of Easter always being in our midst) it is one thing to give up chocolate (a difficult fast if ever there was one) and quite another to fill the space of time and energy given up with prayer. At a minimum may you daily pray the prayer left out of the above passage, good old verses 7 to 15. Feel free to use the traditional language or this recent translation by Eugene Peterson in "The Message."

Matthew 6:7-15 (The Message)

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what's best --
      as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!
      Yes. Yes. Yes.


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