During the first week of July, Joanna was with me on work experience, and as part of that we worked together on a sermon, using the passage from the Sunday following. The following is almost entirely Joanna’s words, with only a few tweaks from me – it is well worth a read!
Jorge Muñoz was born in 1964 and drove his children to and from school in New York; he seemed pretty ordinary. He moved to America from Columbia looking for a new life after unfortunately his father died in a fatal accident. After dropping a school bus full of children off at school, he met a group of immigrants who he felt were just like him, however, he realised that they were homeless and were desperately searching for jobs in order to send money back home to their families and these men would often go days with no food. Jorge packed eight additional lunches the following day and fed them to the men. He continued to do this until one day we came across a food factory that were throwing away completely fine food after closing time: Jorge asked them if he could take the food waste to feed the immigrants. His entire family helped out with making meals for the immigrants. Ever since, Jorge (along with his family) has given people like these immigrants more than 100,000 meals. He has changed the life of many people.
How to Give
Jorge Muñoz is an excellent example of someone who gave to the needy, without announcing it “with trumpets” – in exactly the way Jesus tells us to give in our passage.
C.S Lewis once said “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; but thinking of yourself less”. Jesus wants us to give with the right intentions, thinking of ourselves less. We should give almost without giving it a second thought: Jesus even says “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”.
He says this to guard us from a lack of humility – the temptation is to give like the hypocrites, in such a way that we will receive human acclaim; but then we will receive no reward from God. He should be our focal point when giving: we should give with the intention of honouring God, not to be honoured by others.
That is how we should give. Many people in society who have misconceptions that we can only give money to those in need, but not once in this passage does it say that we should give money. We see in the “Widow’s Offering” (Mark 12 41-44) that Jesus commends a woman for giving all she had. So the question is: what do we have? Be it time, money, gifts, or talents – we need to give it back to God generously, and to honour him, not so others think more highly of us.
How to Pray
The second part of the passage is Jesus teaching us how to how we should pray: as with giving, Jesus commands us to be humble.
Throughout the Bible, we see on multiple occasions that God wants us to be humble: in James 4:10 it says “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he will lift you up”. Here, Jesus says multiple times that if we humble ourselves and honestly have God as our focal point when we pray; we will receive rewards from our Father in heaven.
Interestingly, Jesus does not say that praying on the streets is wrong; he simply says that those who do that to be noticed by others have already received their reward: human acclaim. There are greater rewards for those who do not seek human acclaim: closeness and intimacy with God.
At Spring Harvest, we listened to someone who had preached outdoors in another country. The day before they preached, someone else was preaching and it began to hammer it down with rain, and they suddenly belted out “GOD: MAKE THE RAIN STOP” and the rain instantly stopped.
When this individual began to preach the day after, it began to rain. Everyone looked at him, expecting another miracle to happen. The individual said a prayer quietly, humbling themselves before God and almost begged for the rain to stop. In a way, he prayed in secret. The rain stopped. God had rewarded him.
The best way to pray, Jesus says, is to “go into your room, close the door and pray” – but, many people say, I don’t have time for that! Life in modern society is so busy many of us have near enough no time to spare. Well for me, a brilliant way to spend time with God is to pray just before I go to sleep. That might work for you – or it might not. What’s important is that we follow Jesus’ command and make time to pray – in secret, humbly, not seeking human praise.
How to Fast
The final part of the passage is about fasting.
We live in a very different age to Jesus. I looked around the other day at school and saw that over 60% of people do not eat anything at lunch. Unfortunately we live in an age of eating disorders where there are people starving themselves along with the opposite extreme of obesity. Together, we have to be extremely careful when it comes to fasting. Being only fifteen, people would become extremely worried if I started fasting.
After reading this passage, I realised that again, Jesus tells us how we should fast not what we should give up in our lives. Many people perceive fasting as giving up all food for a period of time. However, not once in this passage does it say this.
I love my Grandad’s approach to fasting: he gave up his favourite biscuit and now won’t eat Bourbons because he decided many years ago that he simply loved God more. Sometimes, people give individual luxuries up for Lent. Fasting could be giving up something that perhaps distracts us from God. This doesn’t even have to be food: it could be anything… social media, make up or even relationships with people that distract us from our relationship with God.
Fasting doesn’t need to be something that you do alone. In “Friends” we see Phoebe have meat cravings while she is a pregnant vegetarian and Joey who is a complete meat lover offers to give up meat while she is pregnant to allow Phoebe to eat meat so she’d “just be eating Joey’s cows”.
The most obvious theme that ties these three things together is secrecy: doing things in private, to guard against the motive of seeking human acclaim and praise. But as I prayed and reflected on this passage, I saw it in a different way: here, Jesus commands honesty.
In all three examples, the hypocrites pretend to be something they are not: more holy, more generous, more prayerful than is truly the case. They even disfigure their faces artificially, so people know they are fasting.
This is wrong, Jesus says. When it comes to our relationship with God, privacy and secrecy help us to be honest about how we truly feel, and how we truly are. The more honest we learn to be about ourselves in private, the more honest we will be in public – presenting our true selves, not a false image of ourselves.
Being a teenager, this theme of honesty and disfiguring faces immediately made me think of make-up and social media. Today people change their appearance through anything from make-up to plastic surgery, from lip inflations to tatoos – doing whatever they can to cover up the truth of who they really are, what they really look like. People want to make themselves look like they do in social-media-filtered-photos.
But what Jesus wants from us is honesty, not pretending. So, giving, praying, and fasting, however we do them, should be an honest commitment that we make with God.
In an SAS training TV programme, the recruits were commanded to do a circuit of physical training where they had to count their own repetitions; they thought that they were being tested on speed, and so a number of them pretended they had done more than they actually had, finishing fastest. However, it was actually a test of honesty and their reps were being counted to see who was cheating.
Secrecy guards against pride – but it also presents temptation to cheat. We cannot give up something, but secretly keep coming back to it. We need to do things whole-heartedly – being truly honest with God, and others.
Throughout my time reading this passage, I kept thinking about the song called “Burn the Ships” by For King and Country. I interpret this song as being about someone who is finally honest with themselves and God and therefore they “burn the ships” to give up things that were distracting them from God. This element of giving things up allows them to focus on God.
God will reward those who are honest.