This week’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel makes clear that the external work of prayer does not replace the internal work required to support it. Today’s warning is much like the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday each year where Jesus warns us not to sound the trumpets when we give alms. (See Matthew 6:1-2.) Outward signs of faith have meaning only if we seek wholeness inwardly. If any place within us is divided, our prayer is to make amends, to seek reconciliation, and to allow for healing. Only then should we be showing up with our offerings at the altar.
As human beings, this journey toward reconciliation is perpetual. We all carry burdens of anger or resentment in small and large ways. I am reminded of the Jewish practice of the ten days of repentance, where our Jewish brothers and sisters seek to heal any wounds in relationships before the celebration of Yom Kippur when the New Year begins. There is great wisdom in doing this work of internal preparation before starting a new season.
The covenant of the heart asks that we show up for ourselves and for one another, do the hard work of communication and forgiveness, and remember love as our first and last motivation. This journey is ongoing; it is not a once-and-for-all task. Much like the task of choosing life that we reflected on yesterday, the covenant asks us to engage each day with what we most deeply desire for ourselves and the world we live in and to live from that place.
Beloved One, illuminate the dark places within us that carry the burdens and resentments of our lives. Help us to meet those places with compassion, and give us the courage and strength to approach those with whom we need to reconcile. Amen.
This week we continue to explore the importance of Christian morality. We do not earn God’s grace by our actions; rather, our obedience is a response to God’s grace. In Deuteronomy, we read that the choice of life will bring prosperity and is the proper response from a heart of gratitude. The psalmist echoes this sentiment, for blessed are those who follow the Lord not just with words but also with actions. The Corinthians have not understood this so they continue to act like those in the world around them, living by the flesh instead of by the Spirit. Jesus pushes us even further. God sees not only what we do on the outside but who we are on the inside. A true life of obedience begins on the inside and flows outward.
Read Deuteronomy 30:15-20. When have you experienced the choice God sets before us of life or death, prosperity or adversity, blessings or curses? How have you discerned how to obey God?
Read Psalm 119:1-8. How does following God’s commandments bring you joy?
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Consider the forms of love Paul and Saint Valentine display in their letters. What types of love help you serve God, who gives growth?
Read Matthew 5:21-37. When have you experienced legalistic interpretations of scripture? How do you get to the heart of scripture?
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