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Secret service

Secret service

It’s all about the direction of the giving.

Having completed my stroll around the downtown of Baltimore, I find myself looking down from a second-story window in my hotel onto the activity of a restaurant. I don’t know if I’ve ever viewed this common experience from above before.  But being an invisible watcher on the wait staff fits exactly what I was musing on during my walk.

Just to ground us, remember that my study of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 led me to see the life of a disciple as one of experiencing emptiness (often expressed in longing) followed by the filling of God. This pouring out and receiving from another is the dynamic of love in the Trinity.

In Matthew 6, we hear Jesus address three specific actions of the practice of that love. In his preface to them, he sets up the guiding principle:

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Matt. 6:1

He makes it clear that the direction, the purpose, of that emptying determines the source of the filling. He contrasts the upward, secret nature of these devotional actions with the horizontal, public counterpart displayed by “the hypocrites.” The Greek word has the concept of “actor” at its root.

As I walked today, I looked for images for what I call the three emptyings.

Almsgiving: emptying our wallets.

I couldn’t find anything that resembled giving money. But this works for me, for all giving should be a love note to the Lord. And Jesus’s point is, don’t read my love note in public.  If you do, then you replace his response with theirs. You choose. It’s one or the other. You can’t re-use a love note.

Prayer: emptying our hearts

I like this as an image for prayer.  Caged fire.  Perhaps the cage doesn’t capture Jesus’s intent of the secrecy of your room – literally a storeroom inside your house.  Our version might be a closet.

A tower, with a single lit window, works for secrecy.  But it loses the dynamic nature of a heart aflame with longing for God’s loving action.

Fasting: emptying our stomachs.

I don’t know what this sculpture is intended to portray. But by my centering Starbucks through the twisting gap, I’ll let it stand in for a gnawing, growing gut.

Jesus says the actors of the age disfigure their faces when they fast.  It’s a delightful play on words.  It literally means make invisible, presumably through a head covering or a layer of dust and ashes, so that everyone could see their invisible act.

Instead, we go hungry, Jesus says, “only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (6:18)

God is watching.  That encourages me.  It should encourage you, too.  (But it's a warning to the hypocrites.)

He is watching to see where his children have poured themselves out for others in a secret act of devotion to him.

Like the waitress I watch below, he is ever ready to refill such an empty glass.

Jesus, when you speak of this contrast of sources of filling, we wonder how we could ever settle for human acclaim when we could have the Father’s outpouring.  Forgive us.  Let this truth draw us into that secret space where you wait.

Reader: I’m curious – what do you think would be the perfect image for today’s title?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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