Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 (ESV)
1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5 And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16 And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
19 Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
I have until late misunderstood Jesus in this very direct warning, seeing here a simple quid pro quo—don’t act “religious” in front of other humans, and then God will reward you. My misunderstanding is evidence of my deep need to be warned about this, over and over. You see I’ve learned that my heart, on its own, seeks to compel God to reward me as if he were some inert button that pushed would execute my desire. As this recognition sinks in, I sense the company of those two who first felt this dark yearning. Then, set adrift by all this, my heart lunges desperately to-and-fro, wildly looking for a foundation, for something, anything steadfast and sure, for a rock to stand on.
Perhaps my anxiety is what Lent is all about; perhaps this desperation is useful. When we recognize who we really are, who in their right mind rejoices? That first couple didn’t. Why should it be any different for me; or for you?
It was Socrates, the mortal, who said that an unexamined life is not worth living. Jesus, the immortal, is here saying that an unexamined heart is not worth saving. Leave it to Jesus to turn things upside down! For with Jesus, and only with Jesus, when we recognize who we really are, we can rejoice. For that recognition, accompanied by his presence, gives us the new couple! That recognition of our true state, knocking us as it does to our knees, screams our need for a Savior.
And he is there, ready to reward.
Lord Jesus, by the power of your Holy Spirit show our hearts their desperate need for You. Help us to despair of our own devices so that we may fully and completely receive your sure treasure of eternal life.