On this Sunday (2/19/23), the second Sunday of the blessed month of Meshir, the Church reads Matthew 6:1-18, a section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he teaches his disciples about how to become a true servant of the Lord. The passage can be divided into three parts: serving the needy (verses 1-4), heartfelt prayer (verses 5-15), and fasting (verses 16-18).
In the first part of the passage, Jesus teaches his disciples about giving to the needy. He emphasizes that when we give, we should not do so to be seen by others or to receive recognition and praise. Instead, we should give quietly and without expectation of reward, knowing that the Father sees what we do in secret and will reward us through eternal salvation. As St. John Chrysostom says, “Wherefore it is not simply the thing, but the intent, which He both punishes and rewards.” When we serve others, God judges us based on our hearts. If we are serving for worldly praise, we will not be rewarded by the Father. However, if we serve out of love and compassion, we will find favor in the eyes of the Father.
The second part of the passage focuses on prayer. Jesus cautions against praying in public to be seen by others, encouraging his disciples to pray privately in their rooms where only God can see and hear them. Prayer develops an intimate relationship with God and should not be done in public to seem righteous in front of others. Theophylact, a father in the Eastern Orthodox Church, explains that “it is not the place which harms prayer, but the manner and the intent with which we pray. For many who pray in secret do so to impress men.” Similar to service, our hearts must be in the right place to develop a true relationship with God through prayer.
In the final part of the passage, Jesus teaches about fasting. He advises his disciples to fast in secret, without drawing attention to themselves, and to do so with a sincere and humble heart.
This Gospel reading emphasizes the importance of genuine holiness and righteousness, rather than simply performing service, prayer, and fasting for show or recognition. It emphasizes the need to have a sincere and authentic relationship with God, seeking His will and His kingdom above all else—a monumental message for us all as we begin the season of Lent.
- Bible, English Standard Version
- St. John Chrysostom Commentary on Matthew
- Theophylact Commentary on Matthew