|2 Kings 2:1, 6-14
Psalm 31:20, 21, 24
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Why do we pray? Why do we give to the poor? Are we playing to an audience when we do these things? And, if so, who is our audience?
Those may seem like strange questions to you and me. We pray because we wish to be in relationship with God. We give to the poor because we are called by God to do so. Thus, we say—praying and giving are not about audiences. Or are they?
Do we—you and I—ever find ourselves piously “performing” our prayers in public? Are we focused—at least in part—on what others will think of us and our prayers? Do we ever expect acknowledgement and community affirmation for our gifts to the poor? Are we concerned—just a little—with our friends and neighbors being impressed by our piety and our generosity? Honestly, now…can we say these things are not true of us at least once in a while? I wonder…
Yet, in today’s scripture, Jesus tells us that our prayers and our giving are best done in secret—where “only” God knows and responds. To me, Jesus is saying these acts are between us and God, that these acts are to be genuine expressions of love and relationship—NOT acts of performance and status-seeking.
As I thought about Jesus’ lesson, I thought of a recent conversation with my son. An aspiring actor, Jon is currently performing in Tennessee Williams’ play Suddenly Last Summer. The play is a very dark, complex, and emotionally evocative. Until this role, he has performed only in comedies.
When the play first began its run, the audiences were almost non-existent. I wondered if it was difficult to perform with so few in the audience. Yet, Jon and his fellow cast members found incredible energy released in their performance, with the audience becoming almost irrelevant to the performance. Instead, they were so intensely involved in capturing the story—and enacting their roles in the story—that their work generated a self-sustaining and rewarding energy. The act of engaging in good work was enough—in and of itself.
Wow! Imagine applying that imagery to our prayers and our giving. Imagine being so intensely involved with God and God’s work in our lives that we no longer need affirmation from the audience. Imagine living into our relationship with God in such a way that God alone is enough—enough for us to live into the persons we were created to be, enough for us to stand alone on the side of what we know to be right, enough to feed our endless hunger and quench our thirsts, enough….
God is enough. We know that intellectually—but can we KNOW
it in the depths of our hearts, in the very fiber of our being? Can
we act upon that sure and true knowledge? Being human hampers us,
I think…but I need to keep trying. How about you? God, grant
us the grace to live into that promise.
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