"Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven... And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward."
"Blessed are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven; this is how they persecuted the prophets before you.'You are salt for the earth. But if salt loses its taste, what can make it salty again? It is good for nothing, and can only be thrown out to be trampled under people's feet. 'You are light for the world. A city built on a hill-top cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in people's sight, so that, seeing your good works, they may give praise to your Father in heaven.'Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved."
Some would take the first verse and use it to tell others to hide their faith. They become bullies, intent on enforcing the status quo, whatever it may be. Any deviation from their standard must be stamped out.
Over the years I've heard from many women who are afraid to cover their heads for Mass, despite a strong longing in their hearts to show their respect for the most blessed sacrament in this way, because they don't want people to think that they're "holier than thou." And so they suppress the quiet urging that they feel. Some overcome the disapproval (it took me about a year of worrying what other people would think before I finally began to wear the veil that I'd felt drawn to and that I desperately wanted to wear in the presence of the Eucharist, before I actually did it).
After all, attracting attention is apparently to be avoided at all costs, even if we're following a gentle pull on our heart to a certain devotion, or to live in a certain way that might seem odd to others. Yet we know that we're supposed to be in this world and not of this world. Can we really expect to blend in if we follow this command? Jesus tells us that we're going to be hated for his sake. That generally doesn't happen when we're the embodiment of the status quo, after all the world loves its own.
It does happen when our lives or actions or words cause people to question something about themselves. It happens when we somehow threaten some safe assumption that someone else doesn't want to think twice about, because questioning it might lead to a change and let's face it, it's easier to be who we've always been. In these cases that first verse becomes a fall back response. "Don't be a hypocrite. You're just putting on a show."
I was trying to remember tonight where I'd recently read that particular verse, used in that very way, and I finally stumbled across it. That verse was being flung around by David Silverman, in regard to Tim Tebow and his very public faith. "Bad Catholic" gave a great explanation:
Silverman: “It is not surprising Tebow ignores Matthew 6:5 in which Jesus says, ‘When you pray, do not pray like the hypocrites in the street…They pray to be seen praying. Pray in the closet.” Right, that’s what Christ said. Pray in the closet.
Not to be all Catholic, but stop with your fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture. Why was Christ angry at the hypocrites for praying in the streets? Was it because public prayer is inherently wrong? No, because there’s that whole “Let your light shine before all men” bit that needs taking into account. The key word here is. The problem isn’t that they’re praying in the street, it’s that they’re only praying in the street. The problem is that everyone them for praying in the streets, that everyone thought they were holy for doing so.
You see, despite the fairly consistent twisting of Matthew 6, Matthew 5 makes it abundantly clear that we're not supposed to hide our faith. We aren't supposed to put on an empty show either. God made us. He knows us. He knows our hearts and what he wants from us is so simple, that a young child can understand it easily.
He wants us to love him. He wants us live for him.
Living for him isn't going to look like living for the world. And it isn't going to look the same from person to person. He made each of us differently, with a variety of strengths and talents that he will use to transform our world, if we strive to serve him.
We could put a basket over our little shining light, hiding our precious fledgling, stumbling faith. Or we can pick ourselves up, over and over again, trying to keep our eyes on what really matters: God.
It's our choice... our only choice really... at least it's the only one that matters at all... And what will our answer be? Will we tell God yes or no? We decide daily, over and over again: will we serve him? Or will we turn away? Our "yes" changes everything. It has to.
As a side note: I will be moderating and deleting obnoxious comments. There's a difference between discussion and repeated insults and certain readers have cross the line. I will no longer be publishing or responding to your comments. I will continue to remember you in my prayers.