Lectionary Year A, B and C
Ash Wednesday
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Step IV: Broader Context

Almsgiving and fasting in the Jewish community were well organized practices (Is. 54, where both are treated as a common piety: "this is the fasting that I require, give alms...").

V. 17, concerning washing your face, this was prohibited on the Day of Atonement. Where does the instruction come from: "Rather than making a show of piety, let the piety live within"...?

Concern "reward in full", "apecho," a word used in receipts, suggesting that one has already received what is due as reward for pious acts. Once one has signed the receipt, one is not to expect any further payment or compensation.

For the Jews, there were three great cardinal works of the religious life: 1) almsgiving, 2) prayer, and 3) fasting. "Tzedakah" refers both to righteousness and almsgiving. Both Jesus and the Jews forbade the ostentatious giving of alms.

Jews have strong tradition of prayer. In addition, fasting and repentance were closely related. In what sense is our Lord's teaching rooted in the Jewish tradition?

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