Third Sunday in Lent, March 3

Third Sunday in Lent, March 3

Scripture: Matthew 6:2-4

When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Some thoughts:

     Notice the simplicity of Jesus’ words above. Most have only one syllable and many have four or fewer letters. His message couldn’t be clearer, the Jesus’ way—profound teaching with uncomplicated words. Lent is often marked by a renewed focus on some of the simple disciplines which demonstrate faith. Christianity expresses itself in actions. Actions demonstrate that the message has registered (cf. Shema: to hear, one’s actions proved one had heard).

     Giving to the needy is one of those simple actions that is done not to buy God’s favor or earn salvation. It is done simply to live out one’s relationship with the heavenly Father. Giving to the needy is what Christians do. Jesus was clear. He didn’t say “if you give to the needy,” but rather “when you give to the needy.” Have you noticed that is exactly what he did his whole life? We are the “needy” who continually benefit from his immense giving. Giving is a window into the heart. Generosity is at the heart of God so it makes sense that believers would reflect the same spirit and be generous toward others.

     But what about this business of “he will reward you?” While we may think such an idea less than spiritual, Jesus doesn’t, for he said the Father sees everything and rewards accordingly. People don’t do meaningless acts for no reason. It would be very odd if there were consequences for acting badly, but no consequences for good acts or vice versa. Justice requires punishment for bad behavior and reward for good behavior. Humans are moral beings. Jesus’ way of thinking is explicit. But are rewards a motivation for giving? Jesus is most clear that a humble, quiet heart is central as expressed in his right/left hand reference.

     So our question is how, when, and where do you give to the needy? God will guide us. Perhaps volunteer or lend financial support to one of the various Christian humanitarian agencies. Put together a “Grace Bag” in your car. In the bag you might have a toothbrush and toothpaste, a little bottle of shampoo, a roll of toilet paper, a bottle of water, a bar of soap, some baby wipes, a can of beans with a pop top and plastic spoon. Then when you see a homeless person, you’ll have something you can give to them. Be extra generous when you tip at a restaurant. Too often I’ve heard from those who work in restaurants that Christians are lousy tippers, especially after church on Sunday!

     After all, nothing we have is truly ours. Even the ability to “earn” anything is a gift from God. The capacity to create is likewise a gift from God. You see, we are the needy ones and God gives so lavishly to us. Have you noticed that Jesus has never boasted on what he’s done to bring salvation to the needy. He was outward focused. Jesus perfectly modeled the last two verses.

Hymn: “Take My Life and Let it Be” Norton Hall Band 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, our Sustainer and Provider, help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. Tune our hearts to your own generous heart that we may see as you see and do something about it as you guide. Thank you for coming to us in our great need. You are our only hope and salvation. May we bring hope, the hope found in you, to those around us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

 —Daniel Sharp