The Heavenly Father Is In The Hidden Place
May 17, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Can You Show Them Or Not?
1. Chapters five to seven from The Gospel According To Matthew [make up] the passage called "The Sermon on the Mount." It is the sermon that Jesus gave on a mountain. Several phrases that are well-known can be found in it. For example, I suppose that even people just about any where who have never read the Bible have heard the terms, "salt of the earth" and "light of the world." They are found in the chapter before the one I read to you today. Since it has something to do with today's passage, let's take a look at it. I am reading from chapter five, verses fourteen to sixteen. "You are the lights of the world. A city that is on a mountain cannot be hidden. Also, nobody lights a lamp and then places it under a container. You put it on a candlestick. By so doing then, it shines light on everything in the house. In the same way then, light up your lights before the people. The reason you do this is so that the people will see your splendid deeds and thereby worship your heavenly father."
2. By the way, don't you get the feeling that what's written here in this text contradicts today's passage of scripture? In this one we are told to "Light up your lights before the people!" Put another way, the Lord is saying, "Have others see [your] fine deeds!" But in the passage read today, Jesus says, "Don't let others see [them]!" He says, "Be careful not to do good deeds before others trying to get them to see them!" Well, should we let them see [our good deeds]? Or rather, is it better not to let them see?
3. Indeed, even if we let them see them, it is quite a difficult challenge here. I say that because Jesus says, "The reason you do this is so that the people will see your splendid deeds and thereby worship your heavenly father." What is this? It is not merely a talk on how doing fine deeds is hard. Something harder than that is written about. It is the part about "so that they will worship your heavenly father."
4. Generally speaking, whenever we have done good works or splendid acts, does it lead to people "worshipping the heavenly father?" No, it doesn't usually do so. It leads to their praising us and not the heavenly father. It is considerably difficult to get others to worship God by our deeds. Therefore, we lean toward the tendency to not find out how and to not even hope any more that our heavenly father be worshipped.
5. Therefore, Jesus said in chapter six something that at first glance seems to contradict what he said in chapter five. "Be careful not to do good deeds before others trying to get them to see them! Otherwise, you cannot receive rewards before your heavenly father," (6:1). "Trying to get them to see them ... " Why would one try to get others to see [one's good deeds]? Is it so the heavenly father will be worshipped? Is that really the way it is? That's the heart of the problem.
They Have Already Received Their Reward
6. So, let's shift our attention back to today's passage. "Be careful not to do good deeds before others trying to get them to see them!" There were three exemplary "good works" highly respected among the Jews. They are "almsgiving, prayer, and fasting." "Almsgiving" does not just mean charity towards the poor in a narrow sense, but means acts of mutual aid in the community, as seen in places like Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. "Prayer" refers to the set times for prayer at 9:00 AM, noon, and 3:00 PM. At those moments, you pray wherever you are found. "Fasting" is one of the devout acts that has been respected both in Jesus' time and also in the church after that.
7. Jesus is taking up these three things in particular, and he says, "Don't do them like the hypocrites." First, in regard to almsgiving. "Therefore, when you give alms, you must not blow a trumpet before yourself like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and street corners to be admired by others," (verse two). In referring to "blowing a trumpet" it is not meant literally. In a word, it means "showing off."
8. "Also when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. The hypocrites like to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, trying to get people to see them." Right about when it turns prayer time, they deliberately make sure they are in a synagogue or on a street corner. Then they pray at the set time where there is a crowd of people.
9. Also, it's not in today's passage that we read but in verse sixteen Jesus had this to say about "fasting." "When you fast, you must not make depressed faces like the hypocrites. The hypocrites make their faces look awful trying to get others to see they are fasting." When they did things looking healthful, it looked like they were not fasting. He would have us know that this just won't do.
10. Thus, Jesus said, "Don't do like the hypocrites!" However, one needs to be careful with this word for "hypocrites." When we say, "hypocrisy" in Japanese, we write it, "false goodness." Therefore, when Jesus says, "Don't do like the hypocrites!," as a matter of course, we end up thinking Jesus is taking issuing with "lying, being false." "Your good deeds must have no lies. Good deeds must be true to the core. Good deeds must be pure. You should not do them with the impure motive of wanting to be admired. Instead, you have to do them secretly." We end up thinking his command is like that. However, the word translated in this text as "hypocrites" was originally a word that meant "actors." By itself alone that does not have the nuance of "false, lying" or "impure."
11. Actually, in this text Jesus is not taking issue with whether good deeds are false or whether a motive for a good deed is impure. That's not the point he is making, rather he is raising the issue that "They have already received the reward for [their good deeds]." The phrase, "They have already received the reward for [their good deeds]", will be re-iterated. What kind of "reward" is it? It is the reward of "admiration and praise from others." They ended up receiving in full their reward from human beings.
12. Why is this an issue? Because when you are full with rewards from others, then there is no longer any room to receive rewards from God. The Bible says, "Be careful not to do good deeds before others trying to get them to see them! Otherwise, you cannot receive rewards before your heavenly father." It is not only the case that God will not give rewards but also that human beings do not seek for rewards from God. When a person is filled with and satisfied by praise and admiration from others, then he or she will probably not ever seek for praise and rewards from God.
A Relationship with The Father Who Is Hidden?
13. However, even still, the words of Jesus are radical. They are totally. Supposing we might follow this thought through to its end, the reward of praise and admiration from others does not just come from the people around you. Please look at verse three. The Lord says, "When you give alms, you must not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." The phase, "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing," put another way, means "Don't even let yourself know or even show it to yourself!" We not only don't let the others around us see them.
14. Let's get some understanding. The ones who give us the reward of praise and admiration are not necessarily just the people around us. We too are one of those people. Please consider this with me. We suppose that we have done a good thing even in places where nobody knows, even where they go unnoticed. We see ourselves as the performer of a deed. Then as we look at ourselves we may praise ourselves profusely as the performer of the deed. "Even though nobody else may know, I have done this. I have done that too. Hey, I'm pretty great. You're so wonderful. If the people only knew these unknown, secret deeds [of mine], they would surely applaud me like I am doing so right now." Quite possibly, it is not limited to these frank words arising in our consciousness as we've heard so far, but also, as a matter of fact, we really are included among the people who see us. If we let the left hand know, what the right hand does will be admired by the left hand. However, this too is a reward from humans.
15. I repeat. It doesn't mean Jesus is taking issue over whether a deed is merely false or not. Nor is [he making] the exhortation, "Let's do good deeds in secrecy!" What we must truly consider lies much deeper in the interior. It lies much deeper within. It lies in a hidden secret place. In that hidden place is the One. The one who is in the hidden place is God the Father who sees that which is hidden. Jesus was telling us that. How are we living and how are we related to that One, to the heavenly father, who is in that hidden place and sees what is hidden? The deepest place of our lives is being asked this question.
16. Jesus takes up three things in this text in particular, "alms, prayer, and fasting." "Prayer" is not placed in the middle by chance. I'd say a lot more is said about "prayer" in particular than the other two. "The Lord's Prayer" which we say during worship is also recorded in this text. And "The Lord's Prayer" itself is also said to be the center of the entire sermon on the mount.
17. How are we related to the heavenly father and how are we living with him, this one who is in the hidden place and sees what is hidden? That is, it is asking, with what kind of prayers are we living in our secret places? Are we living and truly calling God "Our father who is in heaven" in our deepest, farthest inside, most hidden places? Are we coming face to face with the heavenly father like that, and in a living fellowship with the father? Are you seeking for rewards from this father of yours? Do you consider the rewards from the father as your highest joys? Indeed, when you think about it, to call God father in and of itself is truly a great reward. We have an intimate fellowship with God in the deepest, farthest inside, most secret of places. We have a parent-child relationship with God. I don't think there is any reward greater than that.
18. Often times doesn't both our faith practice and church formation have tendencies to stop on a superficial level as we still don't actually get it and we remain irresponsible in our relationship with the father in the deepest and hidden places? Our heads get filled up with things visible to the eye, with things from the earth and others. A person did this, another did that. I am being received. I am rejected. I have been appreciated. I have not been appreciated. Before you know it we're spinning round and round in this circle.
19. How is your life practice in your deep places, your inner most self going? How is your relationship with the father who is in the hidden place going? We must take another look at this very matter first and foremost. In the first reading, we read the story of Elijah. The statement appeared there that "They had repaired the fallen apart altar of the Lord," (First Kings 18:30). The problems Israel had itself into were not simple political things. Its deepest parts were tattered. Whenever the altars of our daily lives of prayer are fallen apart in tatters, must we not repair them? Must we not repair the relationship with our father? When our bond with the heavenly father is secure, then we don't truly put much stock on not receiving the rewards we are likely to receive from the people on this earth. And it is precisely because we do have this relationship with the father that the heavenly father will be worshipped, through our meager deeds.