When the Infinite and Finite Meet at the Echo of Faith (Matthew 6: 16-24; Fasting)

Before we begin to unpack the meaning of these texts, I can see that Matthew has a concept of revelation worked into the text.  God the Father in the Trinitarian scheme of things cannot be known directly.  Yet God the Father is not inactive here but active through the teachings of the Son.  This is linked to the beatitudes.  God is interested in the state of our hearts but unfortunately the natural Man is only interested in his/her pride, selfishness and greed. 

When we read the above there is actually a contest going on between Jesus and the hypocrites.  Matthew in his Gospel names the hypocrites as the Pharisees and the Sadducees (See the eight woes in Matt: 11 (verses 13, 14, 15, 23, 25,2 7 and 29)).  In Judgement an intention inside the heart cannot be seen but God can see it. There is a battle going on here for the purity of true religion in second Temple Judaism.   Late on Matthew quotes from Isaiah.  I have quoted a little bit more for contextual reasons. Isaiah says:

13 Then the Lord said,

“Because this people draw near with their words

And honor Me with their lip service,

But they remove their hearts far from Me,

And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;

And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,

And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,

And whose deeds are done in a dark place,

And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”

16 You turn things around!

Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,

That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;

Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? Isaiah 29:13-16

So, then we can see that our Lord is saying that on the surface it seems to be true religion by keeping all the hundreds of laws and extra laws.  By keeping these laws, it puffs a person up ‘Look how good I am’.  This in that sense is a form of idolatry.  The reason is because the laws are taking the place of God.  The law was never intended to take the place of God.  Rather it ought to be taken in context of covenant and a personal relationship with The Lord (Tetragrammaton, Ha Shem, The Name).  The children of Israel certainly knew that they were in relationship as it says for example:

1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:1-3

Commentary on Matthew 6 (16 – 18)

16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Verse 16 – 18

The phrase ‘as the hypocrites’ is found in various forms in chapter 6’:

6:2 ‘as the hypocrites do’

6:5 ‘Like the hypocrites’

6:16 ‘as the hypocrites’

Fasting religiously can be a good thing, however if the state of the heart is misplaced then it is a very bad thing. Here in this verse our Lord is saying that they want to be noticed for their outward appearance.  Perhaps ‘the ordinary people’ will somehow put them on a pedestal in some contorted way. Perhaps these hypocrites will get some type of earthly reward; praise, honour, money.  The reason why they are hypocrites is that the heart is a billion miles away from their covenantal God as Isaiah says.  Jesus our Lord says basically that the true believer doesn’t make a big thing out of fasting.  They fast but they don’t show it.  They seek God’s love.  The disciple will get a reward, but our Lord doesn’t spell out what the reward actually is.  From previous work we have done in the beatitudes I feel that this would be linked to the eschaton.

Commentary verses 19-24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so, then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:16-24

True treasure is not kept in the world, but it is kept in heaven.  Moths eat clothes and rust can destroy beautiful objects.  Thieves break into house to steal ‘things of worth’.  However, our Lord makes the point that this is not real treasure.  Verse 21 caps it all!

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Then Matthew uses light and darkness as a metaphor.  This also relates to the state of the heart when our Lord makes the comparison of the ‘the light that is within you’.

It boils down to the fact that we cannot serve God and wealth.  This also points to the state of the heart.  Our Lord knew what he was talking about.  For example, Satan tested our Lord with all the kingdoms of the world:

Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:8-11

Reflection

In everything we do our Lord is interested in the state of our heart before a Holy Trinitarian God.  Fasting when coupled with prayer can bring a clearer focus in our worship of God.  Fasting means that we say ‘no’ to a basic need of human survival.  It is an action that says God’s kingdom is more important than anything this world can give us.  I have to say I very rarely fast.  Working as a Carpenter I like my energy and it would be a sacrifice for me to do such a thing.  However, the door is open to anyone to fast to get closer to God. (I have to say though, if you decide to fast and you have underlying health conditions seek medical advice from your doctor.) 

I also need to say that I am not standing in judgement over any religious group.  I am only bringing out the meaning of the text from Matthew’s perspective.  It isn’t only the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  We need to begin by looking into our own inner being to find lots of evil things going on.  The work of salvation through the Holy Spirit takes more than a lifetime.  There is the Pharisee and the Sadducee in all of us. 

Prayer and fasting can help us to find these dead bones that are in us and help us to be more like Christ.  Be wary though, this process will take us into the eschaton and then some more!

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