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The article below is taken from the Methodist Church UK website and has been written by The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale. Daily Bible readings and prayers are available online or via the app. 

17 February 2021

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

'Whenever 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.' (v. 6)

Psalm 51


Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, which recalls Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). Since it is assumed Jesus was thinking about the ministry he was about to begin and with its end at the Cross, the Church has long used this 40 days to prepare for Passion Week with a similar focus on God. Charitable giving, prayer and fasting, the three acts of devotion Jesus refers to in today's passage from the so-called Sermon on the Mount, often receive special focus in Lent.

Verse 1 is a good summary of the whole passage, which then goes on to give three illustrations of what Jesus means in practice. These three actions – almsgiving, prayer and fasting – were the acknowledged fundamental acts of Jewish piety. Jesus brands as hypocrisy behaviour performed to be seen and respected by others rather than to honour God.

Deuteronomy 15:11 had placed the obligation of charitable giving upon those who serve God. Jesus says whenever you give alms, " do not sound a trumpet before you" which may be meant metaphorically rather than literally, but it could reflect an official practice at the time of blowing trumpets in the temple to signal a particular collection taking place. The praise of others is the only reward of those 'hypocrites' (literally meaning 'play-actors') whose behaviour is so motivated. Verse 3 urges people to keep their egos out of the act of giving. One rabbi says, “The giver ought not to know to whom he is giving, and the receiver ought not to know from whom he receives."

Verses 5-6 describes how you should pray. It should not be taken as a prohibition of public worship; instead the passage establishes that it is engaging in prayer for self-show that is wrong. “Go into your room” is a way of describing privacy; compare Isaiah 26:20.

Fasting is taken for granted, as we see in verses 16-18, although in Matthew 9:14-17 Jesus defends his disciples for not fasting while he is with them. Since fasting was sometimes a sign of grief, a dismal face was naturally associated with it and people sometimes covered themselves in ashes. Jesus does not want normal daily behaviour changed when someone's fasting; that is the meaning of v. 17. It does not mean people should have special behaviour that might make it look as if they are feasting instead.

The nature of the 'reward' God will give is not spelt out, but it is described as “treasures in heaven” in v. 20 in contrast to all earthly rewards which are impermanent.


To Ponder:

  •  Do you mark Lent  in any way? If so, does your practice help you better understand the way of Christ and commit yourself to following it?
  • How easy do you find it to keep your acts of giving (time as well as money) between you, the recipient (if anonymity is not possible) and God?
  • Do you fast, or have you ever fasted, for reasons other than dieting? How has this proved of benefit to you?

Bible notes author

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The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a retired Methodist minister living near Exeter, enjoying walking, gardening, and membership of a vegetable-growing co-op. He fulfils responsibilities for ministerial candidates, local preachers and worship leaders, and as a school governor. He has a particular interest in the natural world and its significance to faith, especially in the context of climate crisis. A former New Testament tutor at Cliff College, he has a passion for helping others use the Bible as our main way of knowing what God has to say to us in the world of today.