He Taught Them as One Having Authority
Matthew 6 and 7 continue the Sermon on the Mount. Studying to find context for Jesus’ teachings can really enlighten us as we read these chapters.
Almsgiving (vs 1 – 4):
In Judaism, almsgiving includes any kind of charity. It also encompasses the belief that generous giving of alms brings abundance to the giver, both temporally and spiritually. In these verses, Jesus is referencing donations made to the temple treasury, where almsgivers could be seen by everyone.
The story of the “widow’s mite” is found in Mark 12: 41 – 44 and Luke 21: 1 – 4. Jesus comments to His apostles that the offering made by the widow is greater than the offering made by the rich, because she gave all she had. Her offering of two mites equaled the smallest Roman coin, worth just a few minutes of work for the laborer. But Jesus knew the heart of the widow and knew that her offering was not only a huge sacrifice, but that it was sincere. She wasn’t doing it to be seen of men. In fact, her tiny offering may have been embarrassing for her to make.
Note that in the Matthew verses, Jesus says, “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee….” This is a play on words because the location for giving alms to the temple treasury consisted of thirteen trumpet-like receptacles of brass. They were shaped like this so the person making the offering couldn’t take the coins back out, simply pretending to make an offering. These trumpet-shaped receptacles were used by Christians until about 400 years after Jesus’ birth, when alms-boxes in churches completely replaced them.
Note that offerings to the temple treasury were for temple use. Jews were still expected to make other offerings to support the poor.
Jesus teaches the people how to pray (vs 5 – 15):
To interpret what Jesus was trying to teach here, it’s important to know how the people of the time understood prayer. The earliest recorded prayers in the Bible are those of prophets like Abraham conversing directly with God. Thus, personal prayer has always been part of Judaism.
When the Jews were taken into Babylon, they adopted the language of Assyria and Babylon: Aramaic. Since the Greek Empire had swallowed up all of the Middle East 300 years before Jesus, the universal language and language of the marketplace at the time of Jesus was Greek. An educated person would have learned Latin to be able to communicate with the Romans, and there were certainly dialects as well.
When the Jews returned from Babylon, their prophet, Ezra, was very concerned about their loss of Hebrew, which was the holy language of the scriptures. Ezra was worried about the purity of their petitions to God, so he formulated 18 written prayers to be said for certain situations. The Jews recited these prayers morning, noon, and night, as sacrifices were offered in the temple (morning, afternoon) or consumed in the evening. Today, these prayers (now 19) are offered four times on Sabbaths and holidays, and five times on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement).
At the time of Jesus, with all that the Jews had been through and were going through, prayer became a petition for all of Israel as a nation and not just for the private needs of the individual. Many prayers were reserved for gatherings of Jews into congregations or in synagogues.
Also, women were not required by the Law of Moses to do any religious observance that had a time or seasonal requirement to it, because they were engaged in doing good within their families. Jewish law says doing good in one way need not be interrupted by the requirement to do good in another way. Because they were normally less educated than men, they also did not learn rote prayers or read them. A prayer from the heart at any time of day or night suited them. And now, this scribe who spoke with authority from God was validating the kind of prayer they had full access to.
Knowing these things may change the way you see The Lord’s Prayer, Christ’s instruction on how to pray:
5 When you pray, you shall not be as the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Most certainly, I tell you, they have received their reward.
6 But you, when you pray, enter into your inner room, and having shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
7 In praying, don’t use vain repetitions as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their much speaking.
8 Therefore don’t be like them, for your Father knows what things you need before you ask him.
9 Pray like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
10 Let your Kingdom come. Let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.
13 Bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen.’
The Jews needed to be reminded how to truly engage in personal prayer and that they could do it any time in private.
Verse 7 is a lesson that few understand. We often interpret it as a rule against praying about the same things every day. But the word “vain” has two meanings. One is self-aggrandizement, or in other words, praying to show off. The other definition of “vain” is “useless.” Note that Christ is referring to prayers to heathen gods. Such prayers are useless because they fall on the deaf ears of idols or Greco-Roman gods, gods who can’t answer.
Judge not (vs 1 – 4):
In many other scriptures, Jesus talks about righteous judgment. There are times in our life when we need to exercise righteous judgement in order to keep ourselves safe. But, Jesus was also very harsh on hypocrisy. When we’re trying to judge the “mote” in our brother’s eye despite the “beam” in our own eye, we may not be seeing very clearly. How can you discern if your judgement of others is righteous or hypocritical?