Read Matthew 6:5-6
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“God detests the prayers of a person who ignores the law.” (Proverbs 28:9 NLT)
There can be no doubt that Jesus was for authenticity. Jesus was not a fan of fake people and he had a word he liked to use toward fake people: “hypocrites”. The word “hypocrites” in Greek (the language Matthew was written in) is ὑποκριτής (pronounced hoop-ok-ree-tace’) literally means “stage actor.” Thus, properly speaking, a hypocrite is a person who puts on a show.
Unfortunately, today’s passage has become one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted texts in the enitre New Testament. Throughout Christian history, it has been an unfortunate reality that Judaism has gotten the short end of the stick. They’ve taken the blame for “killing Jesus”, they’ve taken the blame for being more concerned with “the law” than with God or human beings, and they’ve taken the blame for just about everything you can imagine.
This, in my mind, is a blight on Christianity and it is to our shame that Christians have in the past and continue to look down their proverbial noses at our Jewish brothers and sisters. Do we forget that Jesus was a faithful Jewish rabbi and prophet? Do we forget that Jesus claimed to be the JEWISH messiah? Do we forget that Paul and some of the earliest Christians were, in fact, Jewish?
In fact, Paul had some choice words for Christians who were starting to discriminate against Jews within the church in Rome. “You, by nature, were a branch cut from a wild olive tree. So if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into His cultivated tree, He will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong” (Romans 11:24 NLT). While Paul was trying to understand Judaism in the context of the risen Christ, and he was trying to develop his own soteriology (understanding of Salvation) in light of the fact that many Jews had not accepted Christ as the Jewish Messiah, he also did not condone, nor did he participate in, the bashing or blaming of his Jewish brothers and sisters.
Now, back to prayer. Jesus states in verse 5 that one should not “pray as the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on the street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.” This verse was not meant to be taken literally as a pronouncement against public prayer. First off, the synagogue is known as a house of prayer and it is where countless Jews, Jesus included, went to pray and worship. Public prayer in the synagogue was normal and quite called for, just as it is called for in our churches.
Second, public prayer in the street corners was NOT a normal practice in Judaism, nor was it necessary. It is inherently wrong and slanderous for Christians to propogate this as a common practice in Judaism. Again, Jesus was not saying this a commanded prohibition against the act of public prayer, which he clearly wanted the church to engage in (Matthew 18:19-20), but on the intent behind it! This is important to note.
What Jesus is doing is calling us to look within our own hearts and search the motive(s) behind our prayer. Are we praying for recognition, to appear to be holy, or to gain some sort of selfish desire? Are we stage actors, putting on a good show and pretending to be something we totally are not? Or are we praying to GOD alone, for the sake of praying to God? Is our prayer centered on God, and God’s will, fully expectant that God objectively hears and listens to our prayers? Do we believe, or are we mere stage actors looking for something else?
Jesus’ comman to go in a closet, or to be alone when praying, is not meant to be taken literally; rather, it is asking us if our prayer is centered on God ALONE and, on top of that, are we totally focused on GOD alone. We can fake pray in the closet too, just as easily as we can in a public place. The location, nor the company, is not what matters, what matters is the authenticity. Where are you in your prayer life? Are you authentic? Are you solely focused on God, or are have you let others (yourself included) into that (metaphorical) space that is meant to be for God alone? Reflect on this and be challenged by it to further develop your prayer life.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” – Martin Luther
Lord, I offer you my authentic prayers for I know that you alone hear them when I pray. Amen.