Welcome back as we continue our Lenten experience of the Sermon on the Mount through a young 1st Century Galilean. If you are joining the series midway, you can access the previous installments using the links below:
For just a moment, my mind drifted back home. It had been more than an hour since Mother had sent me to gather firewood. I really should head back…the bread would need to get started soon, and one of our neighbors had ordered extra for their daughter’s wedding feast the day after Shabbat.
But I had to hear more…I was just beginning to make some sense of what the Teacher was saying.
It was a complete reorientation.
But if it was true, the Way he was teaching could literally change everything.
Once again his voice pulled me back into the moment:
“You don’t need to make a show of your piousness. When you give to the poor it should be so natural that one hand doesn’t even notice what the other is doing. And your prayers don’t need to be a performance. It’s just you and Yahweh. And Yahweh already knows your prayer before you even utter it. So pray in secret. And keep your prayers simple, like this:
“Yahweh, who is holy, may your kingdom come alive in us. Care for our needs day by day. Make us forgivers so we can experience your forgiveness. Protect us from the trials we will face. Deliver us from persecution.”
Pray for G-d’s way to become our way. That was so different than what we were accustomed to. We always prayed for Yahweh to bless our lives and our desires. But this prayer was different. It went deeper.
This was no chant or charm, no formula for getting what we want.
It wasn’t a prayer to convince Yahweh to act on our behalf. It was a prayer to change US.
Why do you think everyone needs to know when you are fasting? You who are self-righteous walk around with your faces distorted so people will see how hungry you are. Don’t you know that the recognition of others is all the reward you will receive for such hypocrisy? What good is that? Wash your face and brush your hair like you would on any other day. Yahweh is the only one who needs to know, and Yahweh will reward you in secret.
Giving, praying, fasting. He said to do those things in secret.
For so long, our leaders had made such a public spectacle of those things that we took it for granted. Surely Yahweh would only notice our acts of piety if they were fully on display.
Gradually, a new thought began to enter my mind.
What if the Teacher’s words were not just meant to change our minds about who we are, but about who Yahweh is?
Could G-d really be that accessible? That personal?
Our heritage had taught us that only the priests could approach Yahweh on our behalf. But what the Teacher was saying seemed to sound less like religion and more like relationship.
Like everything else he had said, it went against everything we had ever known. But could it be true? Could it be that Yahweh’s kingdom had less to do with our people’s might against the Romans and the other nations, and more to do with something more interior? More intimate?
Salt and light. My mind wandered back to what he had said before.
We don’t change the world through force and power, but through love and relationships.
If that was really Yahweh’s plan, then it would follow that Yahweh was not a god to be worshipped from a distance and impressed by our pious displays, but one who was near and present, one whose desire was not for might, but for light.
We had always thought that the promise to Abba Abraham had been all about possessing the land. But what if it was about more than that? What if the land was just a signpost to something…more?
There was so much to think about, but the Teacher was still talking. Any thoughts of returning down the mountain to regather my firewood and start the bread had vanished like the morning mist in the rising sun.
I had to hear all he had to say, no matter how long it took. No matter how angry Mother would be with me. I’d figure out a way to make it up to her.
This was too important.
Next week: Treasure