*/“Acts of Righteousness that please God”*[i]*/*
In the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God;
and about our proper attitude in living out our faith.
Jesus addresses some of the common practices
of the devout Jews of his day
to illustrate a truth
that is relevant for us even today.
In Jewish culture there were
three main “acts of righteousness”
or “acts of piety”
that were expected of every member
of the covenant community.
Every devout Jew was expected to be a righteous person…
to be a “tzedakah”(heb.)
or in greek to be a “diakosunay”…
a “righteous one”.
Piety and devotion to God were expressed primarily
through *almsgiving, prayer, and fasting,*
*and certainly a number of other spiritual disciplines*.
These were the pillars of the faith.
In the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus goes straight for the jugular,
Pointing out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees
And setting a high standard for His would-be followers.
In this passage we quickly detect a common pattern,
Which gives us some clues to the cultural context
In which these teachings were given.
There are a number of identical key phrases
That keep repeating.
For example, the phrase,
“when you give alms…
when you pray…
when you fast…”
suggest that these were “acts of righteousness or piety”
that were done regularly.
It’s not “If you give, pray, fast, etc.”
Similarly, we have a repeating pattern that identifies
The “Who you are doing it for”.
“Be careful” who you are doing it for…
We sense Jesus is speaking about an issue
that is very important to God,
namely spiritual integrity!
We detect a subtle danger in excercising the “acts of piety”.
Our acts of piety can easily get on the slippery slope
Just like many pious and devout Jews
were doing the right thing but for the wrong motive,
so we too must be on guard about our motives.
*ILL.: Sometimes our generosity comes from mixed motives*
*As the following example illustrates: *
*Along Miami's Flagler Street some vandals had cut down *
*six royal palms.
*Since the palms are very expensive, *
*Dade** County** authorities weren't sure if they could replace them very soon.
*But then someone donated six more *
*and even had them put in. *
*The old ones had been about 15 feet tall *
*and provided a nice foreground *
*for a "Fly Delta" billboard.
*The new palms are 35 feet tall *
*completely hiding the sign.
*This was all a very nice gesture…*
* Until you find out that the new donor *
*Is non other than Eastern Airlines.*
There is always a temptation
for people of faith to show piety
in order to get something out of it…
be it praise, affirmation, and applause,
or even some other form of reward.
*Consciously or sub-consciously we ask, *
* “What’s in it for me?”*
*And, *we are rightly concerned about our financial offerings.
After all, we want our money to help the poor and needy...
We ask many important and legitimate questions:
How much should we give?
To which institutions?
To which missions and causes?
What is the right amount for our household to give?
Furthermore, we ask about the reason and attitude
that we should have when we give.
Should we give out of a sense of duty or obligation?
after all the Bible says so,
and we wouldn’t want to make God mad…
Or is there a higher calling
to share the resources that God has
so generously entrusted to us?
Jesus tells us that if we have any motive
other than seeing the smiling face of God,
who sees our secret acts of love for Him,
we are on the wrong track.
A man moved into the small town*
and bought a little house
across the street from the railroad tracks.
Every morning he noticed an elderly lady
walking along the tracks picking up something