Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving – Wednesday, 11th week in ordinary time – Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
This text in its entirety, Matthew 6:1-18, constitutes the Gospel each year on Ash Wednesday, for it takes up the disciplines that Lent calls us to; prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Gospel of today will focus on two of these disciplines, namely fasting and almsgiving but I suggest you read the entire text and reflect on it as one composite unit.
Praying, almsgiving and fasting were the three actions expected of any pious Jew of Jesus’ time. As he had already said, Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to bring it to perfection, to raise it to a higher level.(5:17) So he insists on performing these good actions not to be seen and praised by others, but ‘in secret’, for the Father who sees the heart will reward us.
Jesus is not criticising these practices; he is asking us to examine our motivation in doing them. More than how much one should pray, give or fast, the focus of Our Lord is on how one ought to pray, fast and give alms. Thus far, the disciples had the scribes and the Pharisees as their models in these matters but that was demolished by Jesus when he told his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (5:20) Clearly their models of holiness had failed and they needed a new perspective; a Godly perspective.
For Jesus, the three spiritual disciplines of prayer, almsgiving and fasting are not an option. Look at the text, he does not say if you fast, if you give alms or if you pray. Our Lord used the word ‘when,’ clearly indicating these disciplines are not a choice in the Christian life but a necessary component of the faith.
But even a necessary component of the faith could be corrupted by members of the faith. We may hold on to the act but forget the attitude behind the act. Almsgiving is a beautiful and essential part of Christian life and should be encouraged and nurtured in our children and youth. Almsgiving by its very intention is not about us, it is about the person who is in need. So, when we insist that our names be plastered on the wall of a Church or go up in lights, for what we have done, then we lose our reward.
I want to make an appeal here to every Christians who reads this text. Please support your Church with your alms. There are too many who sit in judgment and question the Church. While financial accountability is not being discounted in this discussion it is the personal justifications that permit one to refrain from giving that I would like to question. God gives us even when we do not deserve it.
When we support Christian charities, when we support the Church, we bring about the kingdom of God. As a priest, I want to testify how blessed the Church has been when through the many kind donations, a Church in Malad East was built, the poor and needy were fed through the pandemic, children were educated, students were sent abroad to study, and ashram and a home for children were funded, medical bills of the poor were paid in full; the list goes on.
Today, Jesus reminds us of the “hall-marks” of genuine religion: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. We need all three. Prayer without some element of fasting and almsgiving could become so heavenly, as someone has said, that it is no earthly use. Fasting without prayer and almsgiving might end up as simply self-preoccupied dieting. If we give alms but have no time for prayer or some self-denial, perhaps our motto is “do good and avoid God!”
The Lord invites us to discipline ourselves but even more to bring purity to our intentions