25 October 2007

Gospel of St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 6

This lesson is a continuation of the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 6).

We find Jesus being critical of a certain manner of almsgiving, fasting and prayer. He is not critical of the practices themselves, but He is critical of the abuses and hypocritical way they are done. The scribes and Pharisees had multiplied the laws until it wasn’t even possible to observe them any longer. These Jews held themselves in high esteem and looked down on their fellow Jews as the “accursed.” In their pride and hypocrisy, they became critical and self-righteous and saw others as inferior.

Jesus is addressing our motivation, since motive makes all the difference. In Matthew 6:2-4, it say, “Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your lefthand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Father Echert mentioned that, in fact, they used to blast trumpets to draw attention to themselves. Their reward is the flattery of others. The motive shouldn’t be so that God rewards us now or in Heaven, but it should be flowing from charity and love.

This ties in to how Jesus acted when he prayed. He shows that our relationship to God should be an intimate and private matter in regard to piety. In Matthew 1:35 and in Luke 9:18, we see Jesus rising early to go to a “lonely place” or seclusion for prayer. It is also referred to as praying “in secret.” It indicates that Jesus made prayer a habit and a priority to go off in private. (See also CCC 2602 and 2655). From our study, it says, “Even when it is lived out “in secret,” prayer is always prayer of the Church; it is a communion with the Holy Trinity.”

The Church teaches that the spiritual works of mercy are: instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy are: feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead.

Father Echert talked about fasting and Pope John Paul II had this to say (from our study):
Penitential fasting obviously is something very different from a therapeutic diet, but in its own way it can be considered therapy for the soul. In fact, practiced as a sign of conversion, it helps one in the interior effort of listening to God. Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he was tempted at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Angelus, 10 March 1996

In Matthew 6:7 it says.”And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Father said this is the line many Protestants take to mean we shouldn’t say the Rosary since it is a repetitive form of prayer. In context, what Jesus is condemning is the Gentiles, who at the time, were using incantations to conjure up spirits and perform magic. This was a pagan practice. Jesus is NOT condemning the meditative form of prayer in the Rosary (as Father Corapi says, you are merely praying the Scriptures). Father Echert brought up the wonderfully humorous story of Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal as an example (1 Kings 18:17-46).

Jesus then goes on to teach the Our Father. Luke’s gospel has a shorter version, but Matthew’s version was adopted early on by the Church. Like the Beatitudes, it is probably another example where Jesus taught this several times in slightly different ways. The Our Father is in two halves; the first half is glorifying God and the second half petitions God for our needs.

This idea of God as Father was not new to the Israelites, but the familiarity of calling God by name certainly was. Israel may have been God’s “son,” but to call God “Father” was too personal, so the Our Father was kind of an alien concept to them. Father did mention that Jews and Muslims do not call God by name unless it is in a religious context.

“Our daily bread,” has a two-fold aspect. One is the things we need on a daily basis (temporal), like food and shelter. The other is spiritual as in the Eucharist. Both are forms of sustenance and are connected, since Jesus wants us to trust in God for all things.

To forgive others’ trespasses is a CONDITION OF HEAVEN. The debt we have been forgiven is much greater than what we could ever forgive of another. We have sinned against an infinite God who is all good, others have sinned against us (and God), but we are called to imitate Christ, and to not forgive shows an incredible lack of charity.

“Lead us not into temptation,” means to not tempt us beyond our ability to resist or endure.

Interestingly, Father talked about the whole, “For thine is the kingdom, power and the glory…” part that is added (Doxology). This was never spoken by Jesus. It came from an early manuscript where it was written in the margin. The Our Father was being used in the liturgy and somehow this got added in. (Am sure there is much more to the story here, but Father didn’t have enough time.)

During the Reformation, many Protestants worked with faulty manuscripts written in Greek. At the time, the Church did not allow these early manuscripts to be used since they were translated poorly and ended up with errors. The Church only allowed translations of St. Jerome’s Vulgate. Later on, you could use the original Greek or Hebrew texts. Father mentioned that the Church was criticized at the time for this, but now has been proven wise.

Mammon is an Aramaic word that means “wealth” or “property.” You cannot serve both because if you love one you will despise the other. You will be led astray.

Father mentioned that there is a shifting away from the Old Covenant ideas of righteousness being rewarded now, showing God's approval and sinners being punished now, to a more mature idea of a spiritual need to trust God and store up treasures in Heaven.

The rest of this chapter talks about being anxious and how this can be avoided by trusting God (this reminds me of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, “Jesus I trust in You"…one of my favorite prayers to say throughout the day.)

Our study has this quote:
Some sins rush to judgment in consciousness, while other remain hidden until the Last Day. We do well not to pass judgment on hidden things until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness.
-St. Augustine

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