February 24th: “It’s About God”

Acts of piety, especially forgiveness of sins, restore connections with God. Who we seek to impress, determines the value of what we do. Seek to impress God.

This Week’s Passage: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

I. Establish the text

A. Select the Pericope:

C. Other texts for Year C for 2nd Sunday in Lent

D. Brainstorm: What questions/thoughts come to mind?

1-4 – Deeds done to impress people, do not impress God.

5-8 – Prayers with deep oratory quality do not connect with God.

9-10 – Know who you are talking with and seek God’s kingdom.

11-13 – “WE” petitions not “ME” petitions.

11 – – Minimal food needs for life.

12 – – Dialectical understanding of forgiveness: both present now in Jesus, and needed after the final judgment. Emphasizes the danger of presuming God’s grace.

13-15 – We want God to lead us from temptation and forgive us when we stray. Therefor we hope God will forget our mistakes and while remembering our weaknesses that led to those mistakes. We must do the same for our neighbors; releasing their mistakes and guarding their weaknesses.

16-18 – Since fasting yields heavenly rewards, we should dress like we are being honored.

19-21 – The mate to giving to impress God, is giving to put our hearts in the right place.

E. Reconsider where the text begins and ends: What got chopped out?

  • 7-15 – The RCL omits the Lord’s prayer. Omitting shifts the focus towards the behavior of righteousness. But including the prayer shifts the focus towards being at prayer in all things. To paraphrase St Francis: Pray at all times, if necessary use words.
  • 19-21 – The RCL includes these verses making the focus of this paragraph on storing up treasures in heaven. When these verses are included with the next pericope, the focus becomes not storing up treasures on earth.

F. Are there any significant variants in the manuscripts? Why?

  • 4 & 6 – Some minor variants (as reflected in the KJV) add “openly” to the end of each of these verses. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts (and most modern translations) do not have this word.
  • 13 – There are ten endings in various manuscripts for this verse. The oldest and most reliable manuscripts (and most translations) omit any doxology. N.B. Roman Catholics do not typically add a doxology when repeated in worship because it was missing from the Vulgate. Protestants typically add the doxology because the oldest Greek manuscripts available to the Reformers included the doxology.

II. Literary Study.

C. Review syntax/meanings of critical words, phrases, idioms

/anTrwpwn/ – NIV & RSV translate this and its cognates as “men”, but Greek has a separate word for males. Thus “people” would be a better translation.

/paraptwmata/ – trespasses. Perschbacher notes in the *New Analytical Greek Lexicon* that in other literature this word means to step falsely.

/upokritai/ – hypocrites. Boring notes this word was “a neutral term to the Greeks, literally meaning “stage actors.” Modern usage has loaded it with negative connotations.

/epiousios/ – daily, necessary, continual, for today, for tomorrow. This word appears only in this prayer, both in the NT and in other Greek literature. Boring reminds us that day laborers may have gone from one day to the next without knowing where there next day’s bread was coming from. Thus this prayer may have been a request to place concerns for tomorrows food into God’s care.

D. What is the literary style of the text? And how does it affect the reading? What does a poetic form do to the meaning? Lament/Praise/Petition? Any subtle variations in the repetitions? What is emphasized/minimized by the repetition?

Two fold inclusio: giving and building treasures forms the outer pair, prayer and fasting the inner pair, with forgiving the central ideal.

III. Question the text.

C. What is the center of gravity of the text? Where was the author heading? What question did the author intend to answer? What is the emotional center of the text? What music would it call for?

  • Center of Gravity: Forgiveness is the greatest act of piety.
  • Emotional Center: Seek to impress God with piety.

IV. What do the commentaries have to say about the text?

M. Eugene Boring, (“The Gospel of Matthew”, NIB) notes the parallels between vv. 2-4, 5-6, and 16-18. He also notes the 3 units of the “inserted” prayer. He notes the references to the synagogue (2 & 5) should not be interpreted as indictments against Jews in general, because both of these practices would not be in keeping with norms of synagogue worship. But rather what is indited is the attitude with which a hypocrite comes to pray. [For example coming to church so that others can see you there.] The Lord’s Prayer has many similarities with other first century Jewish prayers, especially the Kaddish. He suggests that the original prayer was in Aramaic. He also suggest that the original prayer was addressed to /abba/, a familiar form of address rather than a formal address as with the modern English “Father.” He notes that the prayer like authentic worship is God centered, not human need centered.

V. With respect to the hearers (including the preacher), What does this text want to say and do?

Those times when my sermons were best received,
when parishioners came up and said: “I felt you were preaching directly to me,”
were those times when I was preaching to myself. — Rabbi Chet Diamond

B. Focus Statement: Central, controlling, unifying theme.

Who we seek to impress, determines the value of what we do. Seek to impress God.

C. Function Statement: What change in the hearer?

Acts of piety, especially forgiveness of sins, restore connections with God.

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