We are studying Matthew 6:1-8 for Sunday, February 9 – a portion of the Sermon on the Mount that deals with how to give alms (“don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing”) and how to pray (“in secret”). [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a few questions we might want to think about or even discuss in class:
In verse 1, Jesus makes a reference to “piety” – or rather, in Greek, a word that we sometimes translate as piety, when we don’t translate it as “righteousness,” or as “justice.” Jesus’s examples of piety (or righteousness, or justice) are giving money to the poor, praying, and fasting.
When we think of piety, or of righteousness, or of justice, what examples do we ourselves think of? [For instance, if we think of a “pious” person, what do we imagine that person doing? If we think of a “righteous” person, what do we imagine that person doing? etc.]
Do we see those three “things” or ideas as the same kind of thing, or as different kinds of things? Why? In what ways do we seem to be thinking of them in the same way Jesus thinks of them in our text? In what ways do we seem to be thinking of them differently? How do our answers here seem to relate to the way we understand what Jesus is saying here? How?
What word would we use to describe the examples Jesus gives? Does that idea seem different from piety? Or righteousness? Or justice? How? Why?
A general principle in this text is Jesus’s instruction not to do things like compassionate giving or praying “to be seen by others,” but to do them to be seen by God. How do we feel about this? Why?
Do we have any objections? What are they? [For instance, maybe we feel that sometimes it’s a good think to be seen by others … or we’re not so sure we should be that concerned with a reward, even from God … or …]
What do our objections tell us about how we are reading and interpreting this text? [That is: I’m thinking our objections arise from something we are thinking the text means, so … what are we thinking it means?] Are there ways to understand the text that would answer our objections? What are those?
How does the text seem to address us? Is there anything we do now that it seems to … call into question? Is there anything we don’t do now that it seems to encourage us to do, or to do more of? What? What do we think we will do about this? Why?
This text, along with Matthew 6:16-21, is one of the lectionary texts for Ash Wednesday. Every. Year. Why, do we think? Do we think people need to hear this text every year? Do we need to hear it every year? Why is that, do we think?
If we took this text to heart and put it into practice, what do we think would change in our own lives? In our church? In our world? Why?