Put On a Happy Face
Our lesson from St. Matthew's Gospel is in the middle of one of the most exciting passages of the New Testament. In it, Jesus describes the Kingdom lifestyle He wants His followers to live. He was teaching His disciples on an unnamed mountainside where they had gone seeking a moment's peace from the huge throngs of people that followed Him every day.
His teachings were not just for His Disciples, but were meant for you and me, if we would also be His followers. Let's listen as He describes the lifestyle He wants us to live.
"I want you to be salt," Jesus told them, "a seasoning, bringing out the rich flavors of the Kingdom in the lives of those around you. However, if you let your salt go stale by not keeping in touch with God, His truth and His Church, what good is it? Stale salt ends up in the trash.
"I want you to be light, bringing out the Father's bright colors in everyone you meet. And," He continued, "if you hide your light because you're ashamed of being My disciple, the whole world goes dark."
He said that if we choose to fast, or deny our appetite in order to focus more fully on the things of God, which many of us do during Lent, we are not to go around looking haggard and hungry so that everyone knows we're fasting.
Whose attention are we trying to attract? Who are we trying to impress? Some of you might remember the words of that old song, "Put on a happy face!" Jesus said to wash your face, put some oil on your face. In other words, let your face shine ... yes, shine with a big smile...a happy face.
When we pray in church or in a group where others are listening, it's not a performance. God is not impressed with flowery language. As one modern translation puts it, "... to do so might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won't make you a saint."
God is looking at your heart while you're praying. Prayer is a time for truth, a time for radical honesty between God and us and, if we can't handle that in front of others, we should pray silently or at home in our closet or corner, and pray from the heart with all honesty.
The Kingdom life is a connected life, and there's a connection between what we do and what God does. Now that doesn't mean God is the cosmic vending machine -- just say the magic words or put a token in the slot and we'll get everything we want. That's not the way it works! And there is a connection.
When we ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us ... what if we haven't forgiven? What if we refuse to forgive? Is it right for us to still expect God to forgive us? If we stop doing our part, is it fair to expect God to just go on doing His? In prayer, in forgiveness, in life, there is a connection.
Jesus also spoke of another kind of connection -- where our treasure is, that's where our heart will be, and where we will spend our time and energy. He cautioned against hoarding treasures on earth, urging us instead to invest in the Kingdom.
So how do we do that? Did Jesus mean giving money to the church? Giving to the church is commendable and important, and necessary for the upkeep and maintenance of our place of worship. However, most of His followers who were with Him on the mountainside that day were poor, so I don't think donating money was what He had in mind.
Investing in the Kingdom means being wise stewards of God's creation, using our time and resources to help the less fortunate, doing "unto the least of these." It means feeding the hungry, tending the sick, looking after the widows and orphans in our midst, sheltering the homeless, visiting prisoners, giving a cup of water in Jesus' Name.
And the dividends from these investments? We find the answer later in this same Gospel according to St. Matthew. To those who invest in the Kingdom by caring for "the least of these," Jesus will someday say, "Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."
I doubt that you'll find any dividends like that on Wall Street.
May we hear His words of instruction and may He grant us strength and courage to live accordingly.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
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