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Matthew 6

Layman's Bible CommentaryLayman's Bible Commentary

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Verses 1-18

Of Alms, Prayer, and Fasting (6:1-18)

We have here three strophes of identical structure, all of which conclude with the same expression: "your Father who sees in secret will reward you." The evangelist has inserted between the second and third strophes two other words relative to prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer.

These three strophes deal with three forms of Jewish piety. Here again, Jesus contrasts two conceptions of "righteousness" : a "righteousness" which seeks the approval of men and a righteousness on which the secret blessing of God rests. Each of these types of righteousness wins the reward which comes from it. Here, as throughout the Sermon on the Mount, the issue involves the true situation of man before God the genuineness of man’s benevolence, his prayer, and his repentance. God "sees in secret." He unmasks all the hypocritical acts done not out of love but to be "seen by men." A true encounter with another demands the forgetting of self, an unostentatious reserve. A true encounter with God takes place "in secret" A love which displays its favors or its sacrifices is not love it is a caricature of love.

What is said here of alms applies to all our works, just as what is said of fasting applies to all our renunciations. It is better that God alone know of them. It is preferable that the one who does them have no consciousness of them, because they spring forth spontaneously from a renewed heart. The blessing of God rests on such, and he will receive his reward "at the last day."

Jesus urges his disciples to sobriety in prayer (vs. 7). It is the pagans, said he, who believe that the longer a prayer, the more efficacious it is. (Is it only pagans who believe this?) The reverence we owe to God demands that we weigh our words (see Ecclesiastes 5:2). God knows what we have need of before we ask him! (vs. 8). Therefore, someone will object, why pray? The prayer which Jesus teaches his disciples answers this question. It is less a request than an act of faith and of praise, a giving of our whole selves to God in order that his will may be done in us and by us. This prayer focuses on God, on his Kingdom; it aims at putting our whole being and its desires in tune with God, as one tunes an instrument so that it may give a purer sound.

"Our Father -who art in heaven." This formula, peculiar to Matthew(see Luke 11:2), evokes both the intimacy of the filial relation and the majesty of God; it reminds us that "God is in heaven, and you upon earth" (Ecclesiastes 5:2). We wait before a holy God, but a God who, in Jesus Christ, desires to be "our Father." The whole miracle of divine grace is contained in this single word.

"Hallo-wed be thy name." In Hebrew tradition, the name is equivalent to the person; it reveals him. It is said of Israel that she sanctifies the holy name of God by her obedience to his commandments, or profanes it by her disobedience (Leviticus 22:31-32; Isaiah 29:23; Isaiah 48:9-11; Ezekiel 36:22-27). The sanctification of the name of God is one of the signs of the Messianic Age: God will finally be acknowledged and glorified for what he is, and manifested through his children. The Christian has the weighty honor of bearing the name of Christ. Each day he must face the question of whether his conduct "hallows" this name or desecrates it.

"Thy kingdom come." The hallowing of God’s name is intimately related to the coming of his Kingdom. This involves the victory of God over all his enemies, and the coming of the New Age, the new heavens and the new earth where righteousness shall reign (Isaiah 65:17-18; see H Peter 3:13; Revelation 11:15; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). We have the first fruits of this final victory in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit. But we await its glorious manifestation, and this hope remains the ardent prayer of Christians (Revelation 22:20).

"Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven." In the Old Testament, the term translated here by "will" means also "good will," "benevolence," and the New Testament readily uses it in this sense (see Luke 2:14, margin; Matthew 11:26) . It suggests God’s benevolent purpose toward us, as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus has come to the earth to accomplish the will of God, which is the salvation of all men (see Hebrews 10:7-9; John 3:16; John 6:38-40; John 12:32). This petition, then, does not imply a mere passive resignation. To pray that God’s will be done "on earth as it is in heaven” is to pray for God’s victory over all adverse forces which still hold the world in bondage; it is to pray that all shall come to know God; it is to pray that his will be done in us and by us. For a Christian who lives under the sign of the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, to pray this prayer is to enter into battle alongside his Lord so that Christ may reign on the earth as he does in heaven. It is, very concretely, a question of knowing the will of God and of doing it (see Romans 12:2; Colossians 1:9-10). But Jesus himself has shown us that this knowledge is not acquired without struggle (Matthew 26:38-39).

These first petitions relate to God. Those that follow present to God the fundamental needs of men: daily bread, the pardon of faults, and help in temptation.

"Give us this day our daily bread" This petition poses a problem, for the Greek term translated "daily" appears only in this place in the New Testament (and its parallel in Luke 11:3). The etymology of this word is uncertain. It may mean "for this day," or "for tomorrow," or "necessary." In any case, it involves a minimum of provision indispensable to life. It has sometimes been spiritualized, as though it meant bread for the soul. But our bodies also receive the life of God and depend on him for their existence. It is his entire existence which the believer entrusts to God, and it is this trustful prayer which ought to deliver him from fear of the morrow. There is, then, no contradiction between this petition and Jesus’ words against anxiety of spirit (6:25-34).

"And forgive us our debts" God is seen here as the sovereign creditor to whom we must give account for all the goods he has entrusted to us. What have we that we have not received? The pardon which God offers signifies that the past is abolished and that a man finds himself before God in an entirely new situation. He is freed from his debt. But if he does not forgive the debts infinitesimal by comparison which his brother has contracted toward him, his own liberation is illusory. The love of God has found no echo in him. He is still in death. This is why Jesus inexorably bound the pardon which we receive from God to that which we accord to others (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:23-35; Mark 11:25; see James 2:13).

"And lead us not into temptation" This saying has posed a problem for Christians in every age. The Epistle of James tells us that God "tempts no one" (James 1:13-14). The source of temptation is not in God. It is in our own "desire," or it comes from "the tempter" Satan (1 Thessalonians 3:5). We are, nevertheless, told that God "tests" his own (Genesis 22:1; Exodus 16:4; Job 1:6-12). He places us in circumstances which put our fidelity to the test The New Testament is full of warnings about the struggles which await Christians in the last days (see Matthew 24:4-13; Luke 22:31). Jesus faced temptation and recognized in his struggles the will of God (Matthew 4:1; see John 12:27-31; John 14:30-31; Hebrews 4:15). He tells us to fear temptation, to watch and pray in order to be preserved from it, precisely because he alone has measured the total force of it (Matthew 26:40-41).

"Deliver us from evil" The Greek term translated "evil" designates in biblical language everything which is wicked or perverse; that is, everything which is opposed to God, to his will, to his law, to his revelation. The noun form may be either neuter, "evil," or masculine, "the evil one," meaning Satan (Matthew 13:19; see Mark 4:15; 1 John 2:13-14). In Matthew 6:13 both interpretations are possible. This petition is closely bound to the preceding one. It is directed, as is the entire Lord’s Prayer, toward the final deliverance, toward the ultimate victory of God over all evil powers. But the one who teaches it has come into the world to announce and inaugurate the Reign of God, to do his will, to give assurance by his sacrifice of the pardon of sins, to conquer in his own Person the tempter of men. Hence, the Lord’s Prayer expresses both our future hope "thy kingdom come" and our present hope; for it is from day to day that we need bread, pardon, and divine protection against temptation and the power of evil.

According to the oldest manuscripts, it is at this point that the Lord’s Prayer ends. But a doxology was added very early. This was an act of praise which, in all probability, was originally the response of the faithful as the Lord’s Prayer was pronounced by one of them. This act of adoration brings to mind 1 Chronicles 29:11. The One whose glorious manifestation we await in faith is the Almighty who reigns forever and ever.

The Lord’s Prayer ought not to be understood only as a liturgical "formula," Jesus sets forth in it what should be the character of all true prayer. It is, first of all, an act of adoration, an act of faith and hope in the Reign of God, in the New Age of which, in Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we have the initial installment; then an act of consecration to God’s will; and finally, a humble and total commitment of our needs to the Father, in the assurance that he will faithfully supply them.

Verses 19-34

Of Treasures and the Spirit o Anxiety (6:19-34)

We have here four sayings, or groups of sayings, which are found in Luke in different contexts (Luke 12:33; Luke 11:34-36; Luke 16:13; Luke 12:22-31). They form a unity in that they deal with our attitude with regard to earthly goods.

Verses 19-21 contrast the treasures of this earth, doomed to destruction, with eternal possessions. There is no suggestion of a conception which was current in the time of Jesus, that is, the assurance of a recompense in heaven for our good deeds, such as, for example, the giving of alms. The question here is whether the first loyalty of our hearts is to God or to the things of this world. He who is engrossed in accumulating possessions is in danger of setting his heart on riches and making an idol of them, thereby forgetting eternal realities (see Luke 12:16-21; Luke 12:33-34).

The parable in verses 22-23 likewise contains a contrast between a healthy eye which illuminates the whole man and the kind of double vision which makes the whole man "full of darkness." The issue is whether the gaze is open only to God or is closed to his light by trying to look to possessions as well. The heart was conceived as the center of the being. If the heart is set on God, all thoughts and actions are directed toward him and are illuminated by his presence. If the heart is shut against God, or attached elsewhere, all is in obscurity, both within and without.

The parable of the Two Masters (vs. 24) was inspired by the custom of that day which permitted a slave to belong to two masters. This involved inevitable conflict The origin of the Aramaic word "mammon" is uncertain. It seems to signify "that to which one entrusts himself." Hence, it came to designate money, the capital which one retains (everything one possesses which is negotiable). In Judaism it took on a bad flavor ("unrighteous mammon," Luke 16:9-11). Jesus sees in mammon the personification of riches, a demonic power which holds man under its control. The worship of mammon excludes the worship of God, and vice versa. There is a radical incompatibility between the two. If our heart is devoted to one, it cannot but hate the other, for each demands exclusive ownership. No one ever unmasked the power of money and the fascination which it holds for men as did Jesus.

Verses 25-34 are addressed particularly to the "poor" in the sense given to this term in the Beatitudes those whose expectation and hope are in God, those who have "left everything" to follow Jesus (vs. 33; see Matthew 19:27). How will it be with them? Who will ensure them their daily bread? Here is a reassuring word their destiny is in good hands! The Father who watches over the birds and the flowers, will he not with still greater reason watch over his children?

It would be a distortion of this passage to see in it an encouragement not to work, and to expect everything from God without doing anything (see 2 Thessalonians 3:8-12). These words are addressed to those who "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness"; that is, those who have devoted their lives to God. To this total gift of themselves God will respond by giving them what they seek his Kingdom! and all other things will be added as well (vs. 33). Jesus did not preach carelessness, but the commitment to God, in humble and joyous faith, of all our cares, particularly the care which wracks so many people anxiety over the morrow. This anxiety includes, but goes beyond, material cares. It may be fear of old age, fear of death. It is not in our power to add "one cubit" to the span of our lives. We must rather receive life from God day by day, and live under the gaze of our Father to the best of our possibilities, in gratitude for what he gives us, and in the confident certainty of never being abandoned. Anxiety is pagan. In fact, it denies the love, the faithfulness, and the omnipotence of God. It chains us to the things of earth.

But does not anxiety often besiege us in spite of ourselves? True; it does. It is a "temptation" from which God alone can deliver us (see Philippians 4:6-7). But in the last analysis it always springs from our desire for external securities, from our refusal to commit to God alone the care of our life and of our death.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 6". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/matthew-6.html.
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