DAILY GOSPEL COMMENTARY: “WHEN YOU PRAY DO NOT BE LIKE HYPOCRITES” (Mt 6:1–6, 16–18 ).
Gospel of Wednesday, 11th week of Ordinary Time
Mt 6:1–6, 16–18
When you pray do not be like hypocrites.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. 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. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“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. 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.
“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. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Gospel Commentary from the Navarre Bible, St. Matthew (with permission)
1-18 “Piety”, here, means good works (cf. note on Mt 5:6). Our Lord is indicating the kind of spirit in which we should do acts of personal piety. Almsgiving, fasting and prayer were the basic forms taken by personal piety among the chosen people — which is why Jesus refers to these three subjects.
- With complete authority he teaches that true piety must be practised with an upright intention, in the presence of God and without any ostentation.
- Piety practised in this way implies exercising our faith in God who sees us and also in the safe knowledge that he will reward those who are sincerely devout.
5-6 Following the teaching of Jesus, the Church has always taught us to pray even when we were infants.
- By saying “you” (singular) our Lord is stating quite unequivocally the need for personal prayer — relating as child to Father, alone with God.
- Public prayer, for which Christ’s faithful assemble together, is something necessary and holy; but it should never displace obedience to this clear commandment of our Lord: “When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father”.
- The Second Vatican Council reminds us of the teaching and practice of the Church in its liturgy, which is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows … The spiritual life, however, is not limited solely to participation in the liturgy. The Christian is indeed called to pray with others, but he must also enter into his bedroom to pray to his Father in secret; furthermore, according to the teaching of the Apostle, he must pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10 and 12).
- A soul who really puts his Christian faith into practice realizes that he needs frequently to get away and pray alone to his Father, God.
- Jesus, who gives us this teaching about prayer, practised it during his own life on earth: the holy Gospel reports that he often went apart to pray on his own: “At times he spent the whole night in an intimate conversation with his Father. The Apostles were filled with love when they saw Christ pray” (St. Josemaria, Christ is passing by, 119) (cf. Mt 14:23; Mk 1:35; Lk 5:16; etc). The Apostles followed the Master’s example, and so we see Peter going up to the rooftop of the house to pray in private, and receiving a revelation (cf. Acts 10:9-16). “Our life of prayer should also be based on some moments that are dedicated exclusively to our conversion with God, moments of silent dialogue…” (ibid., 119).
16-18 Starting from the traditional practice of fasting, our Lord tells us the spirit in which we should practise mortification of our senses: we should do so without ostentation, avoiding praise, discreetly; that way Jesus’ words will not apply to us: “they have their reward”; it would have been a very bad deal.
- “The world admires only spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent” (St. Josemaria, The Way, 185).
VIDEO COMMENTARY ON TODAY’S GOSPEL
TOPIC: ARE YOU OUT TO IMPRESS OTHERS WITH YOUR PIETY TO GAIN THEIR PRAISE?
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus reminds and teaches us about the spiritual disciplines of praying, fasting and almsgiving that we need to do to help us fulfill the commandments of love He left us with. Our spiritual growth is aided by the kind of heart we put in these spiritual acts. Is our intention to show off or to impress others of our devoutness?
Topic 2: Do you share with the poor and show kindness to the needy without “advertising” your kindness and generosity?
Prayer can be so self-centered that fasting needs to be done in tandem with it to purify our intentions and motivations. Fasting allows us to deny ourselves from the pleasure of eating the food we like or the things that we like to do – our passions, our activities that may be sinful such as vices and some forms of entertainment. Fasting also helps us to find compassion in our hearts for the poor, as we emulate their hunger and deprivation. Prayer and fasting are things that we can do without expending financial and emotional energy.
God will be happy if our prayer and fasting are accompanied by almsgiving. Any help to the poor, suffering, sick, hungry, invalids, orphans, needy, helpless, the destitute and despondent will be most pleasing to God.
Pope Francis aptly put it, “Works of love directed to one’s neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the interior grace of the Spirit….We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them. (from Evangelii Gaudium).
When we do good works, do we trumpet it to the world so that people may know how “good” we are? Surely, as Jesus said, those who advertise themselves may gain a passing grade in the report cards of admiring men, but it may fail in the subject of PE – Permanent Endorsement in the report card of heaven.
The Lord tells us clearly, “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matthew 6:3-4)
In case you don’t know, when St. James said, “The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective,” (James 5:16), the word righteousness in Judaism is synonymous with giving alms to the poor. When we pray, we seek God and fasting and almsgiving enhance our prayers. In the story of Cornelius, a centurion who was generous with the poor [in Acts 10:4], an angel comes to him and tells him that his prayers and almsgiving made God notice him.
If your heart bleeds for the poor, and you are desirous to gain a piece of heaven, take time to contribute online in this pandemic to your favorite charity. If you have none yet, look up Ancop, the acronym for Answering the Cry of the Poor, the work-with-the-poor arm of Couples for Christ. Their numbers and account numbers are flashed on the screen.
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