THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT: Lesson 9
Teaching on the Private and Public Life of the Christian Disciple and the Practice of Righteousness

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Eternal Father,
You have asked us to conform our imperfect human will to Your perfect eternal will so that we might make a useful sacrifice of ourselves to You.  In conforming to Your will, Lord, we become obedient children of Our Father and join You in the unfolding plan of salvation offered as a gift to all humanity. Give us the courage to submit to Your perfect will in our lives and give us the self-sacrificial love of Jesus that we might bring glory to You, our Father. It is eternal treasure we seek, Lord, not temporal self-glorification.  We pray in the name of the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Continuing with the study of the Lord's Prayer:

The Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13

The Invocation:

Our Father in heaven

Petition #1

Holy be Your name

Petition #2

Your kingdom come

Petition #3

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Petition #4

Give us today our daily bread

Petition #5

And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Petition #6

And do not subject us to the final test

Petition #7

But deliver us from the evil one

[New American translation]

Petition #2: "YOUR KINGDOM COME"

The LORD's (Yahweh's) throne is established in heaven; God's royal power rules over all." Psalm 103:19

"Then the kingship and dominion and majesty of all the kingdoms under the heavens shall be given to the holy people of the Most High, whose kingdom shall be everlasting:  all dominions shall serve and obey him." Daniel 7:27

Question:  What is the kingdom of God in this petition? Use Psalm 103:9 and Daniel 7:27, listed above, as well as Matthew 9:35, "Jesus made a tour through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news [gospel] of the kingdom and curing all kinds of disease and all kinds of illness" to help you with your answer.
Answer: God's kingdom is in heaven, as expressed in the verse in the Psalms, but the kingdom of God is also linked to the Good News – the Gospel of Jesus Christ which establishes Jesus' Davidic Kingdom of Heaven on earth'the Universal = Catholic Church.

The Kingdom of God is so identified with the life and work of Jesus Christ that the Gospel or "good news" of the Kingdom of God promised in Isaiah 40:9-11 is now in the New Testament referred to as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The coming of the Kingdom of God is the realization of God's plan of salvation in the world.  The Kingdom establishes itself in the core of our being, raising us up to share in God's own inner life. This elevation has 2 stages:

St. John Chrysostom teaches in his homily on the Lord's Prayer that the Kingdom of God comes in the life of the Christian whenever he or she willing takes up the "yoke" of Jesus the Messiah as Jesus told us in Matthew 11:28-30 "Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." [Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, 19.7].

Question: What is the "yoke" of which Jesus speaks and what is the "rest" He promises?
Answer: As opposed to the "yoke" of the Old Covenant Law which was a burden, Jesus calls us to take upon ourselves His "yoke" of obedience to His word, in which we will find the "rest" of eternal life; this is the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God in our lives.

Petition #3: "YOUR WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN"

(Jesus said) "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21

"Yes, I know what plans I have in mind for you, Yahweh declares, plans for peace, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11 [New Jerusalem]

"Teach me to do your will, for you are my God." Psalms 143:10

This 3rd petition expresses 2 desires. 

Question: What is the first desire of the petition: "Your will be done..."
Answer: The petition concerns God's "will" and the fulfillment of His "will".  The first desire of this petition is that we identify humbly and unconditionally with God's will'to abandoned ourselves in the arms of our Father and to the fulfillment of His plan for our lives.

Question:  If you believe God has a plan for your life, how do you access God's plan?
Answer: Continual prayer, living the Beatitudes daily, participating in the life of Christ through the Sacraments He has given us, and faithful obedience to the teachings of Mother Church.

To pray "Your will be done" is to seek the heart of God.  How hard is it for you to submit yourself to the will of God in every aspect of your life?  Read the following verses to help you with your answer:

Question: What is the second desire of this petition: "on earth as it is in heaven..."?
Answer: In the second part of the petition, it is our prayer that just as the angels and saints in heaven are fully at one with God's will, so too, it is our desire that the same union of will should true on earth:

To be part of this union we cooperate with God's will for us in full freedom; for example God's will is to be found in the moral aspect of the divine law'but this law is not forced on us.  One of the signs of the coming of the Kingdom is our loving fulfillment of God's will from an internal desire to conform to the image of Christ. 

 

Petition #4: "GIVE US TODAY OUR DAILY BREAD"

"I am the bread come down from heaven...[...].  I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  John 6:41, 51

Question: The first set of 3 petitions address God.  Looking at Matthew 5 verses 10c-13 what does the second set of 4 petitions concern and what is the subject of each petition?
Answer: The second series of 4 petitions concern us: "give us", "forgive us", "lead us not", and "deliver us": the subject is "us".

In the petition "Give us this day our daily bread" the Greek word, which most Bible translators have translated 'daily' is epiousios. This word is a grammatical anomaly and the derivation and meaning of epiousios is one of the great unresolved puzzles of New Testament lexicography. It is only found here in Matthew and in Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer and does not occur anywhere else in Greek literature except in Christian documents related to this prayer or the subject of the Holy Eucharist.  This word is so unique that was unknown even in the times of the early Church fathers.  Origen of Alexandria, designated by Christian historians as the greatest Biblical scholar of antiquity, suggested that "epiousios" is a word invented by Matthew and adopted by Luke since there was no Greek word in existence that would adequately described the supernatural character of the "heavenly bread" [Origen, De orat. 27.7].  Nor does there seem to be any link in the Exodus passages referring to the manna from heaven: lehem minhassamayim = "bread rain down from heaven for you" or debar yom beyomo =  "a daily portion" or the Aramaic pitgam yom beyomeh.  Scholars have proposed 4 different meanings for this word:

  1. daily
  2. necessary for existence
  3. for the following day
  4. for the future.

St. Jerome's definition was "super-substantial" or "necessary for existence". In any event, from the times of the Fathers of the Church this word has always been taught as a reference to the Holy Eucharist.

Question:  In what miracle in the Old Testament is there the first promise of our super-substantial bread?
Answer: In the miracle of the manna from heaven.  Exodus 16:4 "Yahweh then said to Moses, 'Look, I shall rain down bread for you from the heavens.  Each day the people must go out and collect their ration for the day..."[N.J.]

Question: Where in the New Testament does Jesus promise "bread from heaven" and where is that promise fulfilled?
Answer: In the Bread of Life Discourse found in the Gospel of John chapter 6.  In John 6:32-35 Jesus said, "In all truth I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven, the true bread; for the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.  'Sir,' they said, 'give us this bread always.'  Jesus answered them: 'I AM the bread of life.  No one who comes to me will ever hunger; no one who believes in me will ever thirst.' " [N.J.]

Question: When does Jesus fulfill this promise?
Answer: It is fulfilled at the Last Supper in Jesus' statement, "This is my Body..." and it is fulfilled at every Mass when the priest stands "in the person of Christ" and says the words of consecration which begins the transformation by God the Holy Spirit of our gifts of bread and wine into the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Savior, Jesus!  This is our heavenly bread that our heavenly Father provides to nourish us on our spiritual journey to the promised land of heaven, just as He gave manna to the Children of Israel on their physical journey to the Promised Land of Canaan.  St. Peter Chrysologus beautifully expressed Christ's gift to us of Himself as the true bread come down from heaven in every celebration of the Eucharist when he wrote: "The Father in heaven urges us, as children of heaven, to ask for the bread of heaven.  [Christ] himself is the bread who, sown in the Virgin, raised up in the flesh, kneaded in the Passion, baked in the oven of the tomb, reserved in churches, brought to altars, furnishes the faithful each day with food from heaven." St. Peter Chrysologus, as quoted in CCC # 2837

Is it possible to interpret this petition as the daily nourishment that we need to survive physically?  The Church fathers do acknowledge the all "bread," heavenly and materially does indeed come from God and we do provide, in cooperation with God's creation the bread that supernaturally becomes the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, but, the fathers warn, this interpretation of bread for our physical nourishment must also include the acknowledge that this petition includes the heavenly bread that is Christ our Savior.  In sacred Scripture "table bread" is always an anticipation of the heavenly banquet.  Every meal over which Jesus presided in the New Testament had deep eschatological significance'every meal was a salvation meal which looked forward to the "final feast."  The material bread that God provides for us daily on our own tables symbolizes and foreshadows the heavenly reality that we see in the real presence of Christ in the holy Eucharist which is the visible reality of a heavenly promise when we are called bodily to the heavenly Communion of Saints.

Petition #5:  "AND FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS"

Mark 2:7 "Who but God can take away sins."

The Greek word opheilema which can be translated "trespass" or "debt" is found only here in Matthew chapter 6 and in Romans 4:4 in the New Testament.  The transliteration of this Greek word is "what is due" or "an obligation, a debt."  But here it clearly has a moral connotation, meaning "the debt of sin." This interpretation is supported by Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer where he uses the Greek word 'hamartias' which means venial sins.  Jesus was probably speaking in Aramaic and in Aramaic the word hobha means debt or sin.  In the Old as well as in New Testament times, sin was conceived of in terms of a debt.  Since for his Greek readers Luke translated the Aramaic word into the Greek word hamartias, meaning "sins" we should obviously understand it in that sense.

Question: According to the Bible what is the only way in which a "debt of sin" can be paid?
Answer: In the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament a "debt of sin" can only be paid with blood: [please note: N.J. = New Jerusalem translation]

It is interesting that the last words of the Passover celebration were teltelestai; meaning   "It is finished or fulfilled", these were the same words Jesus cried out on the cross before He gave up His spirit.  In the time that Jesus lived this word "teltelestai" was also an accounting term that was announced when a debt was paid.  Jesus paid our debt of sin on the Cross.

Question:  What is the penalty that we pay for sin in our lives?  How can that penalty be removed?

Question:  Read Matthew 6: 14-15 and Matthew 18:34-35.  According to these verses what is it that we will suffer if we refuse to forgive others?
Answer: In loving gratitude for the debt He paid for our sins we in turn forgive others. If we refuse to forgive others our sins of unforgiveness will separate us from God's forgiveness.

The Eighteen Benedictions of the Old Covenant also has a petition for forgiveness, but no condition is attached to that petition unlike the Lord's Prayer.  Once again, Jesus has "raised the bar" or intensified the righteousness required of the New Covenant believer.  This is the only petition to which Jesus will return and reemphasize at the end of the prayer.

 

Petition #6:  "AND DO NOT SUBJECT US TO THE FINAL TEST"

"Lean upon Him, because if the Lord is not your support and your strength, then you will fall and you will be afraid of everything." St. Johnof the Cross, Sermons, 9, first Sunday of Lent

"But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them.  [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace, and accepted them as a perfect burnt offering." Wisdom 3:1, 5-6 [N.J.]

In this petition we recognize that our human efforts alone do not take us very far in trying to cope with temptation, and we must turn to God to get the strength we need. St John of Avila, wrote "God is strong enough to free you from everything and can do you more good than all the devils can do you harm."

Question: But all the same, we should expect trials?
Answer: Yes. St James, first Christian Bishop of Jerusalem and kinsman of Jesus wrote in James 1:12-14 "Blessed is anyone who preserves when trials come.  Such a person is of proven worth and will win the prize of life, the crown that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  Never, when you are being put to the test, say, 'God is tempting me'; God cannot be tempted by evil, and He does not put anybody to the test.  Everyone is put to the test by being attracted and seduced by that person's own wrong desire." St. James was put to the test.  In the interim between the death of one Roman governor and the installation of the next governor who was in route from Rome the High Priest saw his chance to rid himself of the troublesome Christian Bishop of Jerusalem who was making many Jewish converts to Christianity.  James, kinsman of Jesus of Nazareth, to whom Jesus had appeared after His resurrection [1 Corinthians 15:1-8], was recognized as one of the pillars of the Church along with Sts Peter and John the Apostle [see Galatians 1:19; Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; and the Letter of St. James to the universal Church].  This pious man was even regarded by the Jews as a man of great holiness and was affectionately called "old camel knees" because of the condition of his knees after many, many hours of prayer before God.  In his account of the martyrdom of St. James, Bishop of Jerusalem, Bishop Eusebius writing in the 4th century records the account of Hegesippus, who Eusebius cites as "living immediately after the Apostles" and the account of St. Clement, disciple of St. Peter and 4th Bishop of Rome [martyred 96AD], that James was told his life would be spared if only he would renounce Jesus as the Messiah.  When James refused he was cast down from the height of the Temple.  After surviving the fall, the people at the instigation of the High Priest began to stone him.  James' dying words were those same words uttered by his Savior from the cross, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." James did indeed pass the final test and the courage of his martyrdom won many Old Covenant Jews into the New Covenant in Christ Jesus [see Eusebius, History of the Church, chapter XXIII and also see the account of James martyrdom in Antiquities of the Jews by the 1st century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (circa 37-100AD). See Antiquities Book 20, chapter 9.1].

Question:  If God does not tempt us then why do we even pray "And do not subject us to the final test" or as this petition is sometime translated, "And lead us not into temptation"?  See Wisdom 3:1-9 and Psalms 37:23-24
Answer: God would never tempt us to do evil but He will allow Satan to tempt us and when we rise above that temptation we are strengthened and purified by the experience: "But the souls of the upright are in the hands of God, and no torment can touch them.  [...]. God was putting them to the test and has proved them worthy to be with him; he has tested them like gold in a furnace..." Wisdom 3:1a, 5.  Take courage when you are tested and remember this Psalms: Psalm 37:23-24:"The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord.  He delights in every detail of their lives.  Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand."  When my children were little and we were walking on an icy surface I would admonish them "Don't run; you'll fall!"  Invariably they wouldn't heed my words; they'd run and they'd fall and after I had picked them up and dried their tears they would take my hand and say, "Don't let me fall, Mommy."  This is our plea in this petition: "You warn me of the pit-falls of sin Lord.  I will try to avoid them but when I fall, please forgive me and pick me up that I might try again, Lord."

Question:  Temptation is part of this world and we must face it every day, but what promise does God make us as we face temptation and trial?  Read 1 Corinthians 10:13 for your answer.
Answer: It is God's solemn promise that He "will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it." We must turn to God to get the strength we need to resist the temptation to sin, and through the work of the Holy Spirit to fight the battle against sin in order to live the victory of a holy life.  Such a battle and such a victory are only possible if we remain vigilant, if we remain obedient, and if we are strengthened through prayer and the sacraments Jesus gave to His Church.   

 

Petition #7 "BUT DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE"

Jesus' prayer to the Father on behalf of His disciples: "I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them from the evil one.  They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world."  John 17:15-16

This petition asks that we be delivered from the "evil one", also known as the devil or Satan who is the author of all the evils and sorrows to which we are subject in this world.  In 1 John 3:8, St. John writes: Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning.  Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil."

These verses from Scripture describe the Adversary, Satan:

The Fathers of the Church wrote that the 5 "I wills" of Satan in Isaiah 14:12-15 were answered by the 5 wounds of Christ on the Cross!

In the book of Revelation the angel/messenger of the Church at Smyrna warns the congregation of the dangers they, and we, will face from Satan:

And Jesus warned Simon Peter, and all of us, about the enmity of Satan toward those who belong to Him:

But we also have this promise from the Apostle John to encourage us in the struggle:

Question: Does the Devil have any power over God? 
Answer: No, he is still essentially God's servant as he was before he fell from heaven.

Question:  What promise does God make to us in Romans 8:28 that gives us comfort in the times when evil seems to surround us?
Answer: Romans 8:28 "We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with His purpose, and turns everything to their good [N.J.]." 

We must remember that Jesus is victorious over sin, death, and Satan. The victory is ours but we must continue to claim our victory by resisting sin and thereby, resisting Satan.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger than the devil.  When Jesus first sent the disciples out to preach the Gospel He told them of the dramatic results of their mission in Luke 10:17-19, "The seventy [two] returned rejoicing, and said, 'Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.'  Jesus said, 'I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky. Behold, I have given you the power 'to tread upon serpents' and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you." Jesus is characterizing the preaching of the Gospel of salvation as a symbolic fall of Satan.  Then as now, as the kingdom of God is established and sustained, evil in all its forms is being defeated and the dominion of Satan over humanity and the earth has come to an end.  He can still cause trouble but he cannot take away our salvation unless we, through the exercise of our free will, give it up ourselves!

Question:  Look once again at Romans 8:28.  Does the "everything" in Romans 8:28 include suffering?
Answer: Yes it does!  We must be ready to suffering to gain the Kingdom of Heaven.  Suffering for the Kingdom of Heaven is a result of fully living the Beatitudes, for nothing makes Satan more enraged than a holy life used by God to bring a greater harvest into the storehouse of heaven.

In a way this petition sums up all the other petitions. We are asking our Father to free us from everything our enemy does to tempt us into sin, but we cannot be free of him unless God Himself frees us in response to our prayers. The sacraments, which Jesus gave us strengthen us on our journey through this life and protect us from sin.  Along with the sacramental grace that is ours in living the Sacraments of our faith, prayer is our most powerful weapons against Satan.  It is important for us to remember that it was through prayer that Jesus vanquished Satan both at the beginning of His public ministry and in His last struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane!  We can be sure that our prayers will be heard because Jesus, when He was on the point of leaving this world, prayed to the Father for the salvation of all of us.  In John 17:15 Jesus prayed to the Father, "I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the Evil One.  They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.  Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth."

This last petition is the end of the Our Father prayer, but there is a doxology that we add to this prayer in the Mass:

"For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever."

At some time in the liturgy of the first century Church this doxology was added to the final petition of the Lord's Prayer.  It is found in the Didache, also called "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," the first catechism of the Church, which may have been written as early as 50AD.  Most conservative scholars place the writing of this document in the 1st century AD after the Council of Jerusalem in 49AD but it could not be written later that the mid 2nd century because we have manuscripts dating to that period in which the Didache is quoted. The Greek word didache means "instruction or teaching".  This document contains instructions for gentile converts to the New Covenant faith.  Included in these instructions the Didache commanded that Christians recite the Lord's Prayer three times daily: "Say this prayer three times a day" [Didache, article 8:3].  The second century AD Roman lawyer turned Catholic priest/apologist, Tertullian, wrote that Christians prayed at 9AM, 12 noon, and 3 PM, which corresponds to the Jewish prayer times and the Tamid sacrifice in Jesus' day as well as the hours of His sacrifice and death [Ancient Christian Writers: The Didache, pages 19 & 158-159].  This command to pray the Lord's Prayer 3 times a day is also found in the later Latin translation of the Didache known in English as the Apostolic Constitution in article 7.24.  This practice may attest to the age of the document since in the Old Covenant prayer was offered three times a day at the same times that Christians were commanded to pray the Lord's Prayer.  In the very earliest years of the Church the majority of Christians were indeed former members of the Old Covenant Church, and to these former members of the Old Covenant Church reciting the Lord's Prayer three times daily at these times may have seemed a reasonable continuation of an old custom with a new custom that recalled the hours of the Passion of Christ, replacing the prayers of the "Eighteen Benedictions" which righteous Jews had been commanded to pray 3 times daily.  It cannot be denied that from the birth of the Church this beautiful prayer, given to us by Christ Himself, has been faithfully recited down through the centuries and is contemporary to every generation of Christian believers. It is one of the first prayers we learn as children, it will be one of the last prayers on our lips at the end of our exile on this earth, and it will continue to be faithfully recited by succeeding generations of Christians until Christ comes again in glory to call His Bride home to His heavenly kingdom. 

Catechism of the Catholic Church # 2565 beautifully expresses the dimensions of Christian prayer as taught to us by Jesus in the Lord's Prayer: "In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father who is good beyond measure, with his Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit.  The grace of the Kingdom is 'the union of the entire holy and royal Trinity...with the whole human spirit.'  Thus, the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with him.  This communion of life is always possible because, through Baptism, we have already been united with Christ. Prayer is Christian insofar as it is communion with Christ and extends throughout the Church, which is his body.  Its dimensions are those of Christ's love."

Note: The Lord's Prayer is inscribed on the walls of the Pater Noster Church in Jerusalem in over 50 different languages.  The original church was built in the 4th century AD over the grotto where, according to tradition, Jesus taught His disciples this beautiful and ageless prayer.

Question: Please read Matthew 6:14-15.  After concluding His example for perfect prayer Jesus returns to what petition from the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:14-15?  Why does He emphasize this petition?
Answer: He returns to the subject of forgiveness in petition #5.  These verses reflect a set pattern which theologians call the "Principles of Holy Law." The main thrust of this passage is that forgiveness of our fellow man/woman is crucial to our relationship with the Father through the Son.  We cannot ask God to forgive us if we withhold our forgiveness of others.  Jesus wants us to understand that unwillingness to forgive means that we have withheld our love and therefore we condemned ourselves in the Final Judgment for unforgiveness is the antithesis of love [also see Matthew 18:21-35].  St. John wrote to the universal Church on the power of Christian love in 1 John 4:16c-19, giving us this assurance: "God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him.  Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgment fearlessly, because even in this world we have become as he is.  In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear implies punishment and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.  Let us love, then, because he first loved us."

 

TEACHING ABOUT FASTING
"The world only admires spectacular sacrifice, because it does not realize the value of sacrifice that is hidden and silent." St. Jose-Maria Escriva, The Way, 185

Please read Matthew 6:16-18
It is not a coincidence that the teaching about fasting should follow the teaching about prayer.  Fasting was meant to be a bodily cleansing that accompanies a spiritual cleansing in concentrated prayer.  According to the Law of the Sinai Covenant God's people were only required to fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement [see Leviticus 16:31].  However, in Jesus' day the practice of regular fasting and prayer was common, especially in a forty day period that led up to the Feast of the Day of Atonement.  The Didache, also called "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles," addresses the importance of prayer and fasting for the Christian.  In article 8:1-3 the Didache instructs the Christian: "Your fasts should not coincide with those of the hypocrites.  They fast on Mondays and Tuesdays; you should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.  And do not pray as the hypocrites do, but pray as the Lord has commanded in the Gospel."  The reference to the "hypocrites" may refer to the scribes and Pharisees or to all the Jews who refused the New Covenant in general.  After this statement the Didache records the Lord's Prayer according to Matthew's Gospel with the doxology.  [see Ancient Christian Writers: The Didache, pages 19 & 158-159].

Question: Read Acts 13:1-3 and 14:23.  How did the early Church use the practice of fasting?
Answer: In both passages fasting is associated with prayer.  In Acts 13:1-3 the Christian leaders of the Church at Antioch fasted and prayed when making a petition for divine assistance in an important decision'the election of Paul and Barnabas for a missionary journey.  In Acts 14:23 at the end of their missionary journey Paul and Barnabas fasted and prayed when appointing the leaders of the newly founded Christian communities.

Question: When did Jesus fast during His ministry?
Answer: He fasted for 40 days after His baptism by John the Baptist and before beginning His ministry.  The Church Fathers saw this period of fasting as a resemblance to the fasting of Moses in Exodus 34:28.

During His ministry Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for not imposing fasting upon His disciples as John the Baptist had.  Jesus told His critics that fasting was not appropriate in times of joy.  His reply was that while He was with them He wanted His disciples to be joyful; they would have plenty of time to fast after His departure.  In this passage He was speaking of fasting as a sign of mourning [see Matthew 9:14ff; Mark 2L18ff; Luke 5:33ff].

Jesus knew that there would be a time when fasting would be appropriate for His disciples and He wanted to prepare them for that time.

Question: With another authoritative Amen, "I say to you" what does Jesus define as the correct Christian attitude toward fasting?
Answer: Once again the emphasis is on being God-centered and not on being self-centered.  Christians are to fast secretly in order to receive a heavenly reward.

Fasting is a form of penance in which a person imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food or drink consumed.  From the earliest years of the Church [as noted in the quote from the Didache listed above], Christians have observed fasting days, notably during the season of Lent, in commemoration of Jesus' passion and death.  As commonly understood, abstinence is the action which inclines a Christian to the moral virtue of the moderate intake of food and drink as dictated as an act of faith inclined toward his own moral and spiritual welfare, i.e., to refrain from eating meat as a personal sacrifice offered to Jesus.  See CCC # 2043; 1387; 1434, 1438.

Question: What are the requirements for fasting and abstinence for Catholics in North American as set down by our Bishops?
Answer: Abstinence on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent and to fast one hour before and approximately 20 minutes after receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The obligation of the Catholic to observe days of fasting and abstinence is the 4th Precept of the Catholic Church: CCC# 2043: "The fourth precept ('You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.') ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart."  The Church's universal law, which is found in the Code of Canon Law, states that all Fridays of the year are days of abstinence unless the local bishops'' conference has made other provisions (with the approval of the Holy See).  The American Bishop' Conference has ruled that abstinence is required only on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.  Abstinence on other Fridays of the year is, however, encouraged and this devotion may also be expressed by an act of mercy which replaces the penance of abstinence from meat. 

Today for American Catholics, fasting is limited to one hour before receiving the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the early Church, however, fasting was much more severe.  In the East and in the West the faithful Catholic abstained on fasting days from fleshy meats and from wine.  In the ancient Latin Church the celebration of the Mass was in the late afternoon into the evening during Lent and the fast was not broken before sunset.  Prior to 1966 the regulations on fasting prescribed taking only one full meal a day during fast days, along with some food for breakfast and a collation.  The days of abstinence and fast for the universal Church were Ash Wednesday, the Fridays and Saturdays of Lent, Ember days, and the vigils of certain feasts.  The days of fast were observed the rest of the days of Lent, except on Sundays'a day of rejoicing.  The constitution Paenitemini of Pope Paul VI in 1966 instituted changes in the old norm.  The penitential nature of the law of fasting remained but the extent of the obligation was redefined.  Under the reform the laws of fasting allowed only one full meal a day, but did not prohibit taking some food in the morning and in the evening.  This law of the fast was extended to the faithful who had completed their eighteenth year and up to the sixtieth year for older adults.  Prescribed days of fast and abstinence for the universal Church are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. 

TEACHING ABOUT THE PUBLIC LIFE OF THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLE

 "Jesus said, 'If you wish to be perfect, go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.'"

In the teaching about almsgiving, prayer and fasting Jesus was addressing the private, hidden life of the Christian disciple, however, in verses 19-21 Jesus is concerned with the Christian disciple's public life, addressing issues concerning material possessions, food and drink, clothing, and worldly ambition.

Please read Matthew 6:19-21: Treasure in Heaven
In this passage Jesus is contrasting earthly treasures as opposed to heavenly rewards.
Question: How are earthly treasures limited in value? How do they compare to heavenly rewards?
Answer: Earthly treasures are temporary, corruptible and therefore insecure while heavenly treasures are eternal, incorruptible and forever secure.

EARTHLY TREASRUE

HEAVENLY TREASURE

Temporal and subject to decay

Eternal, incorruptible

Insecure, short-term gain

Forever secure, eternal gain

Question: What is Jesus prohibiting when He tells us "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth..."?
Answer: Jesus forbids the selfish accumulation of goods which flaunts the needs of the poor.  He is not imposing a ban on all possessions nor is He forbidding us to "stock up" and save in time of famine. Scripture praises the ant who stores up in the summer for what he will need in the winter and criticizes those who make no provisions for their families [Proverbs 6:6ff; 1 Timothy 5:8]. 

Question: What does Jesus mean when He says "For where your treasure is there also will you heart be"?
Answer: It is a fantasy to believe that security of happiness lies in the abundance of worldly possessions.  Referring to the heart, as Jesus has frequently done in His sermon as the true reflection of a person, Jesus is telling the Christian that our "heart" always follows our treasure.  If your heart follows the world, you belong to the world, but if your heart is turned to heaven, heaven is where you belong.  Jesus will repeat this teaching in Luke 12:33-34, using the same images as He used in this passage but He will encourage an even higher standard: "Sell your possessions and give to those in need.  Get yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that will not fail you, in heaven where no thief can reach it and no moth destroy it.  For wherever your treasure is, that is where your heart will be too."

Please read Matthew 6: 22-26: Light verses darkness and serving God verses serving the world.
Jesus turns from the contrast between two treasures to the contrast between two conditions, the sighted and the blind'light verses darkness, and between the two masters'God or the world.  He uses the figure of speech "the eye is the lamp of the body" to illustrate that sight is very necessary to functioning well in life'almost everything we do depends on our ability to see.  In this verse the "eye as the lamp" is also a metaphor used in the same way Jesus used the heart as a metaphor for the true depth of a person's being.  Just as blindness leads to darkness, a person who turns away from God is also in "darkness"'so too the eye gives "light" to the body just as one who walks with God is in the light.  It is a question of right and wrong "vision" whether we have our eyes on God who illuminates our lives or we live in darkness without God and are subjects of the world.

Question: This passage in Matthew 6:19- 23 gives two reasons for laying up our treasure in heaven and not on earth.  What are the two reasons?
Answer:

Question: What is the key verse in this passage that speaks of a third contrast in addition to earthly treasure verses heavenly treasure and light verses darkness?  What does it mean?
Answer: Matthew 6:24 is the key verse of this entire section: "No one can be the slave of two masters..."  God and the values of the world are not compatible.  We must choose one or the other for God must be served with a sincere and exclusive devotion.

Please read Matthew 6: 25-34: Depending on God
Jesus' "Therefore," oun in the Greek indicates that this passage is a summing up and a conclusion on His teaching on the public live of the Christian disciple and the accumulation of earthy possessions.  The Christian must compare the security of the two treasures, the usefulness of the two eye conditions, and the worth of the two masters:

The two treasures:

Earthly possessions:
Corruptible, insecure

Heavenly treasures:
Eternal, secure

The two eye conditions:

Blindness:
Darkness to the body

Sight:
A light to the body

The two Masters

The World:
The false, temporary master

God:
The true, good, eternal master

And when we have made the choice for heavenly treasure, for light and good sight, and for God as our true Master then, Jesus says, this is how you behave: "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life..."

Question: When we choose God, what do we need to be anxious about?  Why?
Answer: We do not need to be anxious about what we eat or what we wear.  If all our energy is devoted to our relationship with God we will not have time to concern ourselves with worrying about what we cannot control.

Question: Again Jesus teaches His disciples by providing a contrast'this time it is a contrast of two life goals.  What are they?
Answer: Earthly ambition as opposed to Godly ambition.

Question: What does Jesus say about worry in this passage?
Answer: Worry is a lack of faith in God.

Jesus teaches that God created and now sustains life just as He created and now helps us to sustain our bodies.  The logic is if God takes care of our lives can't we trust Him to take care to the needs of our bodies, and if we trust God to take care of our lives and our bodies cannot we also trust Him to take care of the less important matters like our food and clothing?

Question: Jesus reinforces this logic by asking what question in verse 27?
Answer: "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?" The last word in this Greek phrase can be translated as either "life-span" or "stature."  To add an extra inch to our height or an extra minute to our lives is not in our hands.  If we must indeed leave these issues to God shouldn't we also leave the greater issues in His hands?

But what does this passage not mean: 

  1. It does not mean that Christians are exempt for earning a living, or wearing clothes, or providing food for their families. 
  2. Christians are not exempt from living up to their responsibilities to others.
  3. Christians are not exempt from experiencing trials.

In verse 34 Jesus says that we must "...not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself" meaning that we do the best that we can with the circumstances we are given and leave the rest up to God, refusing to become a slave to worry.  If we become a slave to worry we are not trusting in God to provide for us.  "Sufficient for a day is its own evil" means one day's trouble is enough for one day.  Take one day at and time, living that day in full obedience to God.  Worry is not compatible with a Christian's trust in God. 

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life and what you will eat, or about your body and what you will wear.  For life is more than food and the body more than clothing. [...].  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.  Do not be afraid any longer little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:22, 31-32.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: The passage from the Catechism # 2565 defines prayer as "the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God."  How often do you pray outside of Mass? How does one develop a healthy prayer life?

Question: St. Ignatius of Loyola once said "Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you."  What did St. Ignatius mean by this statement?

Question: Fasting intensifies prayer and worship.  When are we required to fast?  Do you keep these covenant obligations or do you take on additional acts of penance in the form of abstinence or fasting?  Why or why not.  See the Catechism #s 538-40; 2043; 1387; 1434 & 38

Question:  Jesus did not come to do away with our earthly struggles and suffering but came instead to unite our suffering to His.  Even in times of trial and suffering what comfort can you receive from claiming these next 2 verses?

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