That Is Jesus
Rev. Kurt Lantz Ash Wednesday C Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21
March 02, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear people giving, praying, fasting,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“... you must not be like the hypocrites” (Matthew 6:5). That is Jesus. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do... And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites... And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites...” I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to chance it. So I won’t give to the needy, lest I give as the hypocrites. And I won’t pray, lest I be like the hypocrites, and I won’t fast, so that I don’t look like the hypocrites. That is not Jesus. That is you.
“...when you give to the poor...”, that is Jesus. “And when you pray...”, that is Jesus. “And when you fast...”, that is Jesus, too. Do it, just don’t be like the hypocrites. Is that possible for me? If I claim that it is possible for me, is that being like the hypocrites?
Jesus gives me an impossible task, and He doesn’t just set this in place for the forty weekdays of Lent. This is His ongoing admonition from the Sermon on the Mount. We just pay attention to this part during Lent because we find it impossible to be steadfast in doing these things all the time. Perhaps if we could do these Christian disciplines all the time, we would be less likely to do them as the hypocrites. But because these have become special and extraordinary practices us Lenten giver-uppers, we can’t help but to expect special and extraordinary rewards.
We feel that these special acts of charity are worthy of special recognition. They have their deserved wage. We do the work and we get paid for it. We give to the needy of society and society owes us a payment of gratitude. We pray for the Church and so the Church owes us a payment of reverence. We fast in solidarity with those who are deprived in the world and so the world owes us some honour. Why on earth, would we do these things unrecognized, for free, gratis, pro bono?
And so we find ourselves condemned just as the hypocrites, unless we don’t do them at all, which I’m not sure Jesus said would be any better. Doing them for payment would identify us with the hypocrites. Not doing them at all would sever our identity with the One who does do them. So, if not as the hypocrites, then as who?
Yes, as Jesus. Jesus is the One who does His charitable deed without sounding a trumpet before Him. He, many times, told both His disciples and those whom He healed and delivered from demonic oppression not to tell what He had done for them. He did not do His charitable deeds for a payment of recognition. Yet, even so, His good deeds shone a light into a world. “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16), another phrase from this Sermon on the Mount which we have to somehow understand as not contradictory to today’s text).
It is not contradictory, for Jesus did this very thing. It is only contradictory to our sinful nature which does not allow us to let our light shine before others without expecting to be reimbursed for the utilities. It is our selfish sinful pride that makes this an impossible task. Jesus did all things in order to bring glory to our Father in heaven. That is Jesus. We do them in order to bring glory to ourselves. That is not Jesus. That is us.
Jesus is also the One who prays in secret. He withdrew from the crowds and went to desolate places in order to pray to the heavenly Father. That is Jesus. He did not pray in order to receive a payment of reverence from the religious leaders. That would be us. Yet, even so, Jesus has gathered all of us into His prayers and has taught us to pray along with Him, saying His words: “Our Father... give us our daily bread... deliver us from evil.”
What a tremendous gift it is that Jesus has drawn us out of ourselves and into Himself. As we pray with Him, through Him, and in Him, we do so as Him, and not as the hypocrites. His divine nature overcomes our sinful nature because He took on our human nature and shares His very self with us. He has incorporated us into Himself through Holy Baptism. He has taken our sins away and filled us with His righteousness. He has sealed us through His faithfulness so that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
This is what the season of Lent helps us to keep in mind. All of our good deeds and righteousness may be as filthy rags, but Jesus has joined Himself to us so that in repentance our hypocritical acts become the charitable deeds that give glory to our Father in heaven and shine the light of His grace before others. It is in Christ’s charitable deed toward us, uniting us with Himself (making His death on the cross for sin, our death for our sins, and His resurrection from the dead, our new life in Him), that is not a reward or wage or payment for what we have done (and therefore not withheld when we have failed to do), but His own donation to our cause, toward our deliverance, for our salvation from sin, death, and condemnation.
With joy, then we see that Jesus is the One who fasts with washed face and anointed head. Even as He faced off with Satan in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13), so He approached the day of His crucifixion with equal devotion at supper in Simon’s house, when a woman poured expensive perfume upon Him. This was not Him receiving a payment of honour. That would not be Jesus. That would be us in our hypocritical, sinful state. Rather, He bore the scorn of His host and thought of nothing except giving Himself into death for our sins. “In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:12). That is Jesus.
Jesus is the one who did His charitable deed for the needy and prays for the church and fasts for the deprived without payment in return. He did these things for us, not for Himself. He did these things not so that He would earn a fair wage of recognition, reverence, or honour. Rather, He did these things out of love for those in need, out of love for us poor, miserable sinners who need His charity, who need His prayers, who need Him to come alongside of us in our deprivation and share in our poverty.
And who need Him to bring us alongside of Him in acts of love and devotion so that we do not do them as the hypocrites, but as Jesus. Not as acting like Him or aping Him, but as He is at work in us, as we have been covered in His righteousness, as He has cleansed and purified us to let our shine before men that they may see our good works and glorify, not us, but our Father in heaven. That is Jesus. That is you in Christ Jesus. The world looks and says “That is Jesus.” And even more wondrous, the heavenly Father looks at your charity, your prayers, your fasting, and says, “That is Jesus.”
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.